Artwashing: Wallace Collection’s “The Male Portrait”

I’ve always1 read the sponsor walls (or pages) to see who has supported museums. At first, it was mostly to see if I recognized names, but over the past decade or so, it has been with a more critical eye, as to what the donors are expecting from their gift. “Artwashing” as a term is now fairly well-known, probably due to how readily the Sacklers used donations art museums to help legitimatize their wealth. (I’ll likely come back to the Sacklers later, since I find it amazing just how long they have been deeply problematic.)

For the next few exhibits and shows that I go to, I’m going to try to track down the origins of the sponsors’ wealth. I’m enough of a realist to know that any large accumulation of wealth likely has a few ticks in the “distasteful” to “illegal” columns, but I also think there may be some sources of money that are so irredeamingly bad that it taints the exhibit that took the contribution.

To kick this series off, I’ll take an exhibit that is closing today, the Wallace Collection’s “Frans Hals: The Male Portrait.” It was a small, intimate exhibit of maybe 12 male portraits, anchored by the Wallace’s own “The Laughing Cavalier”, and as such, didn’t need a long list of sponsors.

The List

  • Garfield Weston Foundation through The Weston Culture Fund

    • According to Wikipedia, the Weston family made most of their money through retail. In the UK, the Weston Foundation owns a controlling interest in Primark; other holdings include British Sugar, Fortnum & Mason, and Heal’s. It also looks like they helped lay the groundwork for the Brexit referendum.
  • Heineken

    • Beer. That should be obvious.
  • Athene Foundation

    • This is a bit weird. I think this is the Des Moines, Iowa Athene Foundation, but it seems very weird for a foundation based in the US Midwest to be supporting an exhibit in London. Athene is a financial services company, which seems to mainly deal with retirement products.
  • Sue Bloomberg

    • This might be Susan Elizabeth Barbara Brown. A lot of people want to sue Bloomberg, so it’s hard to track down details. Assuming this is one of the Bloomberg Bloombergs, they made their money through financial information.
  • The Robert Lehman Foundation

    • Long-time head of Lehman Brothers.
  • The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

    • In the Cold War, cultural exchanges were often financed by respective countries’ spy agencies. I can only hope that this is a long-term plot by the Dutch to make the United Kingdom build grade-separated bicycle paths all over the country.
  • Marie Alexander

    • I’m not sure who this is. My working hypothesis is that it’s Marie Alexander of the Alexander PR group.
  • The A&O New Change Group

    • This is made up of “Guy and Margaret Beringer, Däna Burstow, Soo and Jonathan Hitchin, Colleen Keck, Don and Lisa McGown, Patrick Mears, Mervyn and Jill Parry, and Allison Wells.” Many of them have a connection to Allen & Overy, a London-based global law firm.
  • Elizabeth Cayzer Charitable Trust

    • It’s a charity that mostly supports conservation and catalogs for museums. The main website for the “parent” trust is quite welcoming, and reveals much about the Trust and its goals. (This is sarcasm.)

In Conclusion

So, in the end, the bulk of donors all seem to be in the general law and finance world. This isn’t too surprising; London is mostly a law and finance kind of town (see: Wharf, Canary), and when times are good, this is a very profitable line of work.

At some point, I’ll write about the carbon footprint of the exhibit. But that’s more research than I’m up for this evening.

  1. I have memories of going to plays at the Clarence Brown Theatre in Knoxville, and reading the program, looking to see how different sponsors had made their fortune. So, this is a habit from middle school at the very least.