The Serpentine Galleries is the latest institution to strip the Sackler name from its building

The newly altered facade of the Serpentine North gallery (formerly Serpentine Sackler Gallery)

Serpentine Galleries underwent a rebrand last spring. The institution changed the name of its second space from Serpentine Sackler Gallery to Serpentine North in its marketing materials. But the original name remained prominently displayed above the gallery’s main entrance until this year.

A spokesman for the gallery said that at the time they were unable to remove the permanent signs from the building. When asked why this was so, the spokesman simply explained that the rebranding was planned in stages.

The institution known as Serpentine North now opened in 2013 in a former gunpowder magazine. It was named after the Sackler family after a £5.5 million donation from a foundation run by Teresa and Mortimer Sackler.

The Sacklers have a long history of philanthropy. Museums around the world accept donations and name buildings, wings, galleries, and more after the family.

However, museums have come under tremendous pressure to disassociate themselves from Sackler’s name. This came after several lawsuits and a 2017 New Yorker investigation. The family firm Purdue Pharma has been embroiled in the US opioid crisis due to its aggressive marketing of the addictive pain reliever OxyContin.

Serpentine has received criticism for not distancing itself from the title sooner, including from one of the exhibiting artists, Hito Steyerl, who compared the sponsorship deal to being married to a serial killer.

The Serpentine galleries did not explicitly say that the title was removed due to controversy. The decision was the result of discussions with the Serpentine board, and the Sackler Foundation was consulted prior to the dismissal, according to a spokesperson.

Several other UK museums have severed ties with the Sackler family. Three years ago, the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate announced they were going to stop accepting donations from the Sackler Foundation. The South London Gallery returned a £125,000 award to the Mortimer and Therese Sackler Foundation.

Serpentine galleries were established in 1970 and are housed in a classic 1934 tea pavilion. The gallery got its name from the nearby Serpentine Lake. The gallery has exhibited such famous authors as Man Ray, Henry Moore, Andy Warhol, Paula Regu, Bridget Riley, Alan McCollum, Damien Hirst, and Jeff Koons.

Zaha Hadid Architects, Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Photo © 2013 Luke Hayes

The Serpentine Gallery annually attracts world-famous architects to design temporary pavilions on its premises. The pavilions are unique examples of modern architecture. Inside these facilities are special film screenings, discussions, and there is also a cafe.

Now two galleries, the Serpentine responds to the unique location of Kensington Gardens by presenting an expanded program of contemporary art and architecture that suits the seasons, with exhibitions in autumn, winter, spring and summer.

Serpentine North Gallery

The Serpentine North Gallery, opened in 2013 and designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, gives new life to the Magazine, a former gunpowder shop from 1805 located a five-minute walk from the Serpentine Gallery across the Serpentine Bridge.

With a new gallery, restaurant, shop and 900 square meters of public space, the second Serpentine space in Kensington Gardens is a new cultural hub in the heart of London. Restaurant “Journal” adjoins the gallery.

Serpentine Gallery

The Serpentine Gallery has presented groundbreaking exhibitions of 1,600 artists over 43 years, from the work of emerging practitioners to the most internationally recognized artists and architects. Each summer Serpentine commissions an architect who has never previously worked in the UK to design a temporary pavilion on the gallery’s lawn. This annual architectural commission is the venue for the public programs of the Gallery and Café.


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