In Brief

After Sacklers Named in Opioid Lawsuit, Met Museum Says It Will Review Its Donation Policy

The Met’s Sackler Wing has become a site of protest due to its association with the late co-founders of Purdue Pharma, who have been revealed as conscious contributors to the opioid epidemic.

A projection by artist Adam DelMarcelle on OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s building in Stamford, Connecticut (image courtesy Adam DelMarcelle)

Responding to heightened controversy surrounding the notorious Sackler family, the Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will re-evaluate its policy on accepting financial gifts. The Sacklers are the original founders of Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company which manufactures OxyContin. The garnered $3 billion in revenue in 2017. The Sacklers have been long-time donors to the Met (along with a slew of other institutions, like the British Museum, the Guggenheim, and the Louvre).

After the New York Times revealed new developments in the state of Massachusset’s case against eight members of the Sackler family, the Met issued a statement on their gift acceptance policy. Daniel Weiss, the museum’s president and chief executive, said:

The Sackler family has been connected with The Met for more than a half century. The family is a large extended group and their support of The Met began decades before the opioid crisis. The Met is currently engaging in a further review of our detailed gift acceptance policies, and we will have more to report in due course.

The Met’s Sackler Wing — home to the popular Temple of Dendur — opened in 1978 with funds provided by Purdue Pharma co-founders, brothers Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler.

Nan Goldin leads a chant during Saturday’s PAIN Sackler protest in the Metropolitan Museum’s Sackler Wing (images provided by Sandi Bachom)

In March of 2018, drug policy advocacy organization PAIN Sackler held an action in the Temple of Dendur, riddling the gallery with fake prescription bottles to call out the Met’s alleged complicity in the opioid crisis. PAIN Sackler was founded in 2018 by photographer Nan Goldin while recovering from an OxyContin addiction, to condemn the Sacklers and their high-profile roles as art philanthropists.

While Arthur Sackler died in 1987, nearly a decade prior to the release of OxyContin, both Raymond and Mortimer have been explicitly implicated in the opioid epidemic and were recently revealed to have played a greater role in the misleading marketing of the drug as part of an ongoing court case spearheaded by the attorney general of Massachusetts. The case, which names eight widows and descendants of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler as partially responsible for the opioid crisis, recently revealed previously undisclosed documents directly implicating the Sacklers. Among the named defendants is Theresa Sackler, widow to Mortimer, who has made donations to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Serpentine Gallery, and Tate Museum.

Court documents revealed that in 2001, facing evidence of heightened abuse of OxyContin, Richard Sackler (co-founder and then-president of the company), wrote in an email, “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” This is the first set of evidence to explicitly link the Sacklers to decisions made by the company about marketing the drug.

Artist Domenic Esposito stands beside an 800-pound forged steel sculpture of a burnt heroin spoon, following a guerrilla installation outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin. (all images pulled from live footage of the intervention, courtesy of Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery)
Artist Domenic Esposito stands beside an 800-pound forged steel sculpture of a burnt heroin spoon, following a guerrilla installation outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin. (all images pulled from live footage of the intervention, courtesy of Fernando Luis Alvarez Gallery)

Elizabeth Sackler, Arthur Sackler’s daughter and the founder of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, has actively supported Nan Goldin’s campaign against Purdue Pharma and denied any financial ties to the company. Neither she nor her mother, Jillian Sackler, is named in the lawsuit.

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