Damien Hirst, Medicine Cabinets (detail) (via Flickr)

In the midst of several high-profile lawsuits, the Sackler Family and its company Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer and creator of OxyContin, is funding a major Damien Hirst exhibition set to open at the Brooklyn Museum in January 2020. The exhibition — aptly called Pills — will feature several works from Hirst’s Medicine Cabinets series, which the famed British artist submitted as his thesis at Goldsmith’s College of Art in 1989.

“The work connects with the artist’s philosophical preoccupation with addiction and death, as well as his deep belief that contemporary art is like a drug,” said Catherine Morris, Sackler Senior Curator.

“I’ve always thought the Medicine Cabinets lent themselves as a political metaphor for the demise of Western culture,” Hirst remarked. The idea for the series, however, first came from his mother:

I was with my mum in the chemist’s; she was getting a prescription. And it was, like, complete trust on the sculpture and organizing shapes, one level in something she’s equally in the dark about. In the medicine cabinets there’s no actual medicines in the bottles. Its just completely packaging and formal sculptures and organized shapes. My mum was looking at the same kind of stuff in the chemist’s and believing in it completely. And then, when looking at it in an art gallery, completely not believing in it. And as far as I could see it was the same thing. And for a long time I’d seen that. I knew that was going on. And I was thinking, ‘If I could only make art like that — that did that. And then in the end, I just decided to do that directly. I’ve always loved the idea of art maybe, you know, curing people. And I have this kind of obsession with the body.

In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, a representative for the Sackler Family and Purdue Pharma says they believe the Hirst exhibition will clarify the scope and range of their philanthropic activity:

We are firmly committed to the values of healing people with our drugs. We have never attempted to conceal or hide behind the sale of Purdue’s opioids. We believe that this exhibition — indicative of art’s significant, decades-long intersection with drugs — will correct spurious claims made against the family.

Pills opens at the Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Parkway, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn) on January 3, 2020. 

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Dorian Batycka

Dorian Batycka is an independent curator, art critic, and DJ currently based Berlin. Previously, he was curator of contemporary art at Bait Muzna for Art Film (Muscat, Oman), assistant curator for the...

5 replies on “Sackler Family and Purdue Pharma Fund Damien Hirst Pills Retrospective”

  1. Further proof that Hirst is a joke, he’s an internet celebrity not an artist.

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