In recent years, renowned photographer Nan Goldin has made waves in the museum industry for her protests inside of high-profile museums with financial ties to the infamous Sackler family. The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, which produces the highly-addictive opioid OxyContin, and are prolific art philanthropists with ties to dozens of museums across the United States and Europe.
Goldin, best known for her landmark series The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, has warned the National Portrait Gallery in the United Kingdom that she will boycott if they decide to accept a £1 million (~$1.3 million) gift from the branch of the Sacklers still connected to Purdue Pharma.
“I have been invited to have a retrospective at the National Portrait Gallery and I have told them I would not do it if they take the Sackler money,” Goldin told the Observer.
“My message is for all institutions everywhere, which are taking Sackler money,” Goldin added. “People are pushing back and, if they want to maintain their standing as cultural institutions and educational institutions, they have to listen to the people and they have to do the right thing. They have to make a decision.”
In 2017, Goldin founded the organization PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) Sackler while recovering from a three-year addiction to OxyContin, which began with a medical prescription. (One of the many criticisms of Purdue Pharma is their extensive marketing campaign to boost OxyContin prescriptions.) OxyContin is often compared to heroin and is for many, an introduction to the drug — 80% of heroin users were first prescription opioid users, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
PAIN Sackler demands “all museums, universities, and educational institutions worldwide remove Sackler signage and publicly refuse future funding from the Sacklers.” They also demand Purdue Pharma give at least 50% of their profits to organizations working to solve the opioid crisis, and that the Sacklers use their personal funds to do so as well.
The organization’s most recent protest took the Guggenheim Museum in New York by storm. Activists staged a die-in, riddling the floor with fake prescription bottles and hanging signs from the museum’s spiraling balconies to protest the museum’s Sackler Center for Arts Education. The protesters then marched to the steps of the Metropolitan Museum, which boasts a Sackler Wing, to continue their protest.
In January, following controversy over the Sacklers, the Metropolitan Museum of Art says it will re-evaluate its policy on accepting financial gifts, but has not denounced the Sacklers or officially refused their funding.
Goldin said she to spoke Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, last week about the Sackler’s £1 million pledge to the museum, which was made in 2016.
“He acknowledged they are in discussion [about the donation] and there will be a final decision in March,” she said. In March of 2018, Guardian reported the museum first needs to ensure the donation is in line with their ethical fundraising policy.
“I was very surprised at his openness. I really feel it’s so important museums listen to their artists, rather than their philanthropists. What is the museum for? Art is transcendent and that makes it very, very dirty if they take the money; it’s failing the whole idea of a museum as a place to show art.”
A spokesperson from the NPG told Hyperallergic:
The Gallery is in regular contact with a wide range of artists about potential future displays and exhibitions, including Nan Goldin, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on projects which are still being discussed. The grant pledged by the Sackler Trust is currently going through our internal review process in line with our Ethical Fundraising Policy and charitable objectives and will be reviewed in Spring 2019.
Hyperallergic has not yet received a response from PAIN Sackler.