On Saturday night, the famed rotunda of New York City’s Guggenheim Museum’s was abuzz with protestors as faux-prescription slips and pill bottles rained down to the lobby, where other protestors were simultaneously staging a die-in. The protests, led by photographer Nan Goldin, were the latest in a series of demonstrations targeting cultural institutions that accept donations from members of the Sackler family; the late brothers Mortimer and Raymond Sackler owned Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, when the company started manufacturing the opioid. Goldin and her group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) have held protests at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, and the Harvard Art Museums, all of which, like the Guggenheim, have taken donations from members of the Sackler family. In 2001, the Guggenheim opened the Sackler Center for Arts Education, and the Met’s famous Temple of Dendur is housed in its Sackler Wing.
The forged prescription slips, which descended from the museum’s heights en masse, turning its architecture into a snowglobe, were made out by “Richard Sackler, MD” to a Solomon R. Guggenheim and contained the quote, “If OxyContin is uncontrolled, it is highly likely that it will eventually be abused... . How substantially would it improve our sales?” This quote came from an exchange between an OxyContin developer and former Purdue Pharma chairman Richard Sackler, son of the company’s co-founder, and it was included in court documents that were published last month.
After leaving the Guggenheim, dozens of protestors marched down Fifth Avenue carrying a banner that read “Shame on Sackler” before stopping outside of the Met. The group protested at the Met last year, and last month the Met announced it would re-evaluate its gift policies in light of the mounting lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.
“The Sacklers have premeditatedly gotten people addicted for profit,” Goldin told the New York Times. She added that the protests will continue until museums stop accepting money from members of the Sackler family, stop using the family’s name, and make “strong statements” acknowledging these decisions.