Awash in Ambidexterity


Crime, money, power, drugs—are all linked.

— Matthew Vaughn

Community activists in Los Angeles, peeved with the proliferation of art galleries in the once-poor Boyle Heights neighborhood, charged local developers four years ago with a sleight-of-hand they named artwashing, the first known use of the word.

Disingenuous businessmen, they said, were guilty of a PR stunt: championing art, not for art’s sake, but to camouflage gentrification.

More recently, another group of business moguls—a family of them—has been artwashing, this time to scrub the stench of criminality from the family name.

WhatsApp chats among Sackler family members reveal the family has consistently strong-armed art museums—recipients of its hefty donations—to praise the confessed drug peddlers.

The museums, which include the Guggenheim, the Met and the Tate, insist they’re immune to the donors’ pressure and are suddenly refusing the Sacklers’ gifts.

Some have also erased the Sackler name from public spaces and programs and kicked Sacklers off their boards and committees.

The WhatsApp chats were released this week as part of Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Perdue Pharma, owned and controlled by the Sacklers, pleaded guilty recently to federal criminal charges of deceptively marketing OxyContin and contributing to the death of 450,000 Americans.

The company reached an $8.3 billion settlement with the government—the largest ever reached with a drug maker—and a settlement that placed Purdue Pharma in bankruptcy.

The Sacklers, however, despite the guilty plea and tons of damning evidence to the contrary, claim they are blameless and will be allowed to keep $10 billion of their dirty money.

Hyperallergic defines artwashing as “using the veneer of cultural engagement to whitewash tyrannical behavior.”

In the case of the Sacklers, that’s apt.