Artists Protest Sackler Family Through Museums That Bear Their Name

(Bloomberg) -- The family behind Purdue Pharma LP, the OxyContin maker facing billions of dollars in potential liabilities for its role in the U.S. opioid epidemic, has been under siege for months in the art world.

The Sackler brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond, who transformed closely held Purdue into a pharmaceutical giant, were benefactors of some of the world’s most prominent museums, including the Smithsonian Institution, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the U.K.’s National Gallery.

Artists Protest Sackler Family Through Museums That Bear Their Name

Artist Nan Goldin, who has written about her “narrow” escape from OxyContin addiction and founded a group called PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) to address the crisis, has been one of the family’s most outspoken critics.

“We are artists, activists and people dealing with addiction who employ direct action as a platform for our demands,” according to the group’s mission statement. “We target the Sackler family, who manufactured and pushed OxyContin, through the museums and universities that carry their name.”

Artists Protest Sackler Family Through Museums That Bear Their Name

The Sacklers have no plans to discontinue their philanthropy.

“For more than half a century, several generations of Sacklers have supported respected institutions that play crucial roles in health, research, education, the arts and the humanities,” a spokesman for the Mortimer and Raymond Sackler family members said in a statement. “It has been a privilege to support the vital work of these organizations and we remain dedicated to doing so.”

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s largest gallery space, which hosts the Temple of Dendur, is named after the Sacklers. PAIN held a protest there last year and a rally in front of the museum in February.

“The family is a large extended group and their support of the Met began decades before the opioid crisis,” museum President Daniel Weiss said in an emailed statement. “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.”

Artists Protest Sackler Family Through Museums That Bear Their Name

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, one of two Asian art museums at the Smithsonian, was founded in 1982 after a donation of $4 million and about 1,000 artworks. The agreement requires that it be named after Sackler in perpetuity, according to spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. The museum has since changed its policy, placing a 20-year limit on naming spaces after donors, she said.

Another gift in 1982 founded the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, one of three institutions comprising the Harvard Museums, which exhibits works from Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. PAIN protested there on July 20.

Name Remains

“Dr. Sackler died in 1987, before OxyContin was developed and marketed,” spokesman Daron Manoogian said in a statement. “Given these circumstances and legal and contractual considerations, Harvard does not have plans to remove Dr. Sackler’s name from the museum.”

In London, the National Gallery has a wood-floored room named after the Sackler family that’s lined with works by English Romantic artist William Turner. A plaque at one entrance to the room describes it as a “gift to the people of the United Kingdom 1994” and lists more than five members of the billionaire clan.

The National Gallery “adheres to an ethical fundraising policy which can be viewed on our website,” Neil Evans, a spokesman for the museum said in an emailed statement, declining further comment.

Egyptian History

The British Museum has two rooms named after Raymond and Beverly Sackler and hosts an annual lecture on ancient Egyptian history in their honor. The institution has received donations from the family since the 1990s, most recently six years ago, a spokesman said. The museum’s trustees “look at each case for support on its merits and think carefully about the nature of the support,” he said in an emailed statement.

PAIN has staged at least seven protests, including last month at the Guggenheim, home of the Sackler Center for Arts Education. Representatives for the New York museum didn’t return an email seeking comment.

Artists Protest Sackler Family Through Museums That Bear Their Name

Among the group’s demands is that the institutions remove all Sackler signage and refuse future funding from the family. The group also calls for Purdue to give at least 50 percent of its profits to those working to solve the opioid crisis.

In an emailed statement, Purdue said its has worked with law enforcement agencies, funded state drug monitoring programs and supported educational initiatives aimed at warning teenagers of the dangers of opioids. Its medications account for less than 2 percent of total opioid prescriptions, the company said.

“We are committed to working collaboratively with those affected by this public health crisis on meaningful solutions,” Purdue said in the statement.

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