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Nan Goldin
via Instagram@nangoldinstudio

Nan Goldin’s activist group protest at the Guggenheim and Met

Opioid-crisis activist group P.A.I.N continue to challenge the Sackler family funding

On Saturday (February 9), artist and P.A.I.N founder Nan Goldin led an anti-Sackler demonstration at two of New York’s leading museums, the Guggenheim and the Met. It followed an open invitation via Instagram, calling for members of the public to “Meet me on the steps!”.

Crowds of people turned up to criticise the museums’ continual acceptance of Sackler donations. The family’s pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma, is one of the largest manufacturers of Oxycontin, the drug at the crux of the opioid crisis, in the US. Goldin’s organisation is calling for the Sackler family to channel their earnings into the treatment and care of victims of the painkiller addiction.

Despite the Sacklers’ accountability in the drug crisis – and the 200,000 deaths caused by it since 1996 – the Met still has its Sackler Wing, and Guggenheim’s Sackler Centre for Arts Education, a gift from Mortimer Sackler, has kept its original name. The activist collective has condemned the lack of direct action by the art world’s biggest institutions, and has consistently railed against any complicity in various protests and die-ins. 

Goldin and P.A.I.N (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) have been pressing institutions to boycott the Sackler name since the collective’s inception in January 2018, which came alongside Goldin’s public admission of her personal struggle with opioid addiction. In a heartfelt letter, she details her experience with the drug, claiming to have “narrowly escaped.”

Saturday’s protest kicked off in the Guggenheim lobby, where a die-in was staged, banners were erected and fake prescriptions were scattered. Later, on the steps on the Met, the group chanted “Shame on Sackler” and held posters demanding that the targeted institutions “TAKE DOWN THEIR NAME”.

“We’ve been knocking on their doors for a year and not a single museum has denounced the Sacklers, taken down their name, or publicly refused their funding,” Goldin said in an Instagram post. “Time’s up.”

In March 2018, P.A.I.N staged a similar protest in the Met’s Sackler Wing, with a turn-out of around 100 people. Last month, the Met issued a statement insisting that its relationship with the Sackler family predates the crisis, saying “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.”

More than 115 people die every day in the United States from opioid overdoses, with approximately 80 per cent of people who are on heroin first using prescription opioids. Between 2016 and 2017, overdoses increased by 30 per cent.