Service of the Art of People Thinking They Can Get Away with Things

May 12th, 2022

Categories: Art, Medicine, Museums, Scams, Theft

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I feel wonder when I read about a long-time super scammer and all the people bamboozled and harmed. And then there are those who think that they can whitewash dirty deeds with good ones. They’ve all been at work for centuries. How is it that each thinks they’ll be the ones to get away with their dastardly deeds?

Artful Theft
The incidence that triggered half this post involved a Canadian dealer who collected art on consignment or to appraise and instead of returning pictures or giving the original owner the sales proceeds he kept the money or a thousand works to the tune of tens of $millions, according to Jo Lawson-Tancred on artnet.com.

Police haven’t identified the thief, though he has been arrested and released. Lawson-Tancred postulates his name and his gallery based on other news sources.


Image by Kai Pilger from Pixabay

What a Pill
The Sackler family, whose marketing methods to promote painkiller Oxycontin for Purdue Pharma helped addict millions while making bucket loads of money, had for decades burnished the family name by supporting cultural institutions and initiatives here and abroad. Artist Nan Goldin, who once suffered from opioid addiction, founded an advocacy organization, Sackler P.A.I.N., to pressure museums to cut ties with them. As a result a few more have just erased the Sackler name from walls and websites according to Sarah Cascone, also with artnet.com.

She reported that although it took a while, The Guggenheim in NYC has finally removed Sackler from its Center for Arts Education and in London, the National Gallery made a similar move. About its Room 34 she wrote: “The name had been in place since 1993, when Mortimer and Theresa Sackler funded the renovation of the room, rehanging works by British masters in a space once dedicated to 18th-century Italian paintings, according to the London Times.”

Cascone further reported: “The latest draft of the bankruptcy settlement will allow institutions in the U.S. to remove the family name without penalty.” Yet there are a few dragging their feet. The Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics and Sackler Educational Laboratory remain in place at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A in London, “has been outspoken in his continued support of the family,” and its name remains on the Sackler Courtyard.

Artist Goldin told Cascone: “We hope that billionaires who shower institutions with their blood money watch the Sacklers’ cultural reckoning and take note that they can be next.”

Is the art world more vulnerable to scams than other industries? Have you heard about any skillful scammers of major proportions of late? Do you agree that the Sackler name and reminders of the family’s generosity from money made off opioid addiction should be removed from the museums it has supported?

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6 Responses to “Service of the Art of People Thinking They Can Get Away with Things”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Very interesting!

    There will always be those who think they can get away with something… Personally I’m not sure about the Sackler family intentionally being criminals, but that’s neither here nor there.

    What I think is, that when Donald Trump said he could shoot someone on fifth Avenue and get away with it… That gave a lot of people the idea that they could indeed get away with anything!

    And look what he has gotten away with – just short of murder. Actually not so short. I am convinced he instigated the January 6 congressional building riots, which did indeed result in several deaths! I blame the Donald for a lot! What a disgrace to democracy and FairPlay.

  2. Martha Takayama Said:

    Scams, bait and switch and theft of artworks during peace and war have all been going on it seems forever. Even this week there was news of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston opting to keep an artwork that had belonged to a German Jewish gallerist who had sold it under duress or economic pressure after having fled Germany for Switzerland during the war. The prestigious MFA Houston did not feel ashamed to keep the work even though the association of the Monument Men dedicated to restoring works to their rightful owners did not agree with the court’s or the Museum’s decision. I am disgusted, amazed by the lack of unmitigated gall (otherwise known as chutzpah) and insensitivity of this behavior., but not shocked.

    The matter of the Sackler family and its profiteering from the aggressive marketing of addictive pharmaceuticals is more complex. Doctors of very different layers of the medical hierarchy were aggressively courted and unscrupulously touted and prescribed the company’s products. Blame has to be extended beyond the immediate members of the Sackler family. Goldin, the artist most prominent in the protest movement has always had an extraordinary egoistic and narcissistic obsession with her own fame and fortune. It has been difficult to attribute all her flamboyant protests with pure concern for the evils of a company and a whole network including doctors, museums, patrons of the arts, collectors, and journalists as pure altruism. IT is also important to remember that there are many other names that figure prominently in the arts and culture on buildings, boards that have similarly distasteful or unethical finances or affiliations

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I never thought of the Trump comment while writing this. What a superb example! And the way he conducted himself while in office was true-to-form: He didn’t study any of the issues or consider the ramifications of his knee-jerk reactions to domestic and foreign relations. Whew! Sadly he continues to get away with all his cheating and murky financial dealings not to mention involvement in the January 6 insurrection. Sigh. A great model for those who think that they, too, can get away with everything.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    Wow was I misled by the article I read and quoted. I didn’t know Goldin’s propensity for publicity to shine spotlights on herself first and foremost.

    I know nothing about the Museum of Fine Arts situation. But a question: If the refugee sold the art to survive–as so many have done over centuries–does it really belong to him or his family now? I realize he wouldn’t have had to flee to Switzerland or sell the picture had it not been for the Nazi horrors in Germany but for argument’s sake, how many others have lost everything as a result of some horrific situation, man-made or natural?

    I realize that the Sacklers are taking the fall but perhaps their situation will be a lesson to others who will try to ingratiate themselves by doing “good works” to mitigate a bunch of wrongs? They are not the only ones to have benefited from the promotion of opioids but apparently they are the biggest offender. If doctors were convinced the side effects of these drugs were inconsequential then are they equally culpable if they wanted their patients to avoid pain?

    There are plenty of names of shady people on hospital wings I suspect but somehow, even if hypocritical, I give them a bit of a pass.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: It’s a human trait to want to get away with something one shouldn’t have. Who hasn’t tried it at one time or another? The behaviors described here are crimes and many of those responsible successfully buy their way out of trouble. The justice system often appears to bow in the presence of money and power.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Martha’s comment above shines a new light on the protest against the Sackler family although I agree with its objective–to remove the halo from a family whose treasure was assembled off the misery of others that their business created. Nevertheless it exemplifies another way for justice to be done if only in a small way.

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