Hannah Gadsby Addresses Sackler Ties to Brooklyn Art Show: Every Billionaire Is ‘F*cked Up’

"I was assured that they’d separated from the opioids strain," the comedian said. "Take that with a grain of salt."
Hannah Gadsby
Hannah Gadsby
Getty Images for AFI

Comedian Hannah Gadsby is speaking up about the controversial ties the Sackler family has to their upcoming art show.

Gadsby, who uses they/them pronouns, co-creates the exhibit “It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby” at the Brooklyn Museum, a show dedicated to unwrapping the complicated legacy of the artist. The program’s curators also include Catherine Morris, Sackler Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art.

“I’m doing a show at the Brooklyn Museum. There’s one Sackler on the board [trustee emerita Elizabeth A. Sackler]. We vetted this. Apparently, they’ve separated their earning streams from the problematic one,” Gadsby told Variety. “I mean, take that with a grain of salt. Doesn’t matter what cultural institution you work with in America, you’re going to be working with billionaires and there’s not a billionaire on this planet that is not fucked up. It is just morally reprehensible.”

They continued, “I was assured that they’d separated from the opioids strain. That’s where it lands. I don’t see it as a clean win-win. That’s for sure, but I’m not sure how to navigate this world.”

The Sackler family is infamously known to have perpetuated the opioid crisis after Arthur Sackler purchased pharmaceutical company Purdue in 1952, which later released the highly addictive Oxycontin in 1996. The rise of the drug empire was fictionalized in limited series “Dopesick” with Michael Stuhlbarg starring as Richard Sackler, Arthur’s nephew who took over the business. Laura Poitras’ Oscar-nominated 2022 “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed” also chronicled artist Nan Goldin’s efforts to take down the Sackler empire, depicting protests at major New York museums that benefit from them.

Arthur Sackler’s daughter Elizabeth Sackler is the benefactor of the Brooklyn Museum’s gallery and has claimed to not have financially benefitted from her late father’s business, calling the pharmaceutical company’s role in the opioid crisis “morally abhorrent.”

However, Gadsby is calling out the overall lack of a “win-win” when it comes to the background of the money funding their exhibit, which opens June 2 and will run through September 24.

“This is the world we’ve built, particularly in the U.S. and it’s like, how do you do anything here without corrupting yourself? I feel like it’s impossible. I feel sick about it,” Gadsby said. “Not just this particularly — but you go through the motions. Again, if you want to change the conversation, do you take yourself out of the conversation to change the conversation? It’s murky, isn’t it? I don’t have an answer. But also the exhibition is about Picasso and I really, really want to stick one up him.”

They concluded, “There’s an elephant in the room [with Sackler], yeah. There’s a problem with money in the art world, generally. That also is part of my perspective on Picasso. Like, is he a hero, or is he just worth a lot of money?”

Gadsby’s new Netflix stand-up show, “Something Special,” meanwhile debuts on the platform May 9.

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