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Artist Nan Goldin & P.A.I.N. Stage Protest Against Big Pharma in The Met’s Sackler Wing


Goldin in front of a “Shame on Sackler” banner in The Met’s Temple of Dendur

Yesterday in The Sackler Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, people handed out pamphlets that were designed to look like official Met materials, with the acronym “P.A.I.N.”, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now printed on them. Photographer Nan Goldin started the group to put pressure on Purdue Pharmaceuticals, the makers of OxyContin, and some members of the Sackler Family, the company’s principal owners and big donors to The Met.

According to ArtNews at one point during the protest inside the Temple of Dendur wing,

“Many people along the pool suddenly began to throw pill bottles into the water—there were scores of the little plastic containers—as others whipped out black banners, one reading “FUND REHAB,” the other “SHAME ON SACKLER.” Goldin, brandishing white type-written pages, spoke in short phrases, and the crowd echoed her as a human microphone. She said at one point,

In the name of the dead. Sackler family. Purdue Pharma. Hear our demands. Use your profits. Save our lives.

The group is calling for them to fund treatment programs and to take other steps to combat the opioid crisis. In the pamphlet, the group demands that “instead of continuing to wash their money in great institutions (like the Metropolitan Museum of Art) they donate their money to helping combat the opioid epidemic.” (Sackler family members have funded projects at Harvard, the Louvre, Tate Modern, and elsewhere, as the New Yorker and Esquire have reported in stories about Purdue’s development and marketing of OxyContin.)

The pamphlets contain statistics about the crisis, like

130 people die a day from opioid overdoses,’ ‘at least 200,000 people have died since 1999 from overdoses involving opioid painkillers,’ ‘$35 billion—Purdue profits from OxyContin, the nation’s bestselling painkiller.

It also includes a list of demands, among them that the Sackler Family and Purdue should invest 46 percent of their profits toward ending the epidemic, and that they should

advertise the dangers of their products as aggressively as they sell them to the public.‘”

In January Goldin published an essay and portfolio in Artforum where she talked about becoming addicted to opioids after being prescribed OxyContin following a surgery, and going clean only after two-and-a-half months in rehab. Goldin wrote,

The Sacklers made their fortune promoting addiction…the Sackler family and their private company, Purdue, built their empire with the lives of hundreds of thousands. The bodies are piling up. In 2015, in the U.S. alone, more than thirty-three thousand people died from opioid overdoses.

The Met’s Sackler Wing came about when Arthur M. Sackler was approached by the museum in 1973 about funding the expansion project. Elizabeth A. Sackler, daughter of Arthur, who died in 1987, supports Goldin’s cause, saying that, by the time Oxycontin was introduced in ’95, Authur’s Raymond and Mortimer were the main owners of Purdue, and that none of the philanthropy done by Arthur’s portion of the family has used money from the sale of Oxycontin. (The Met declined to comment on this.)

After the die-in concluded, the group marched out accompanied by guards, chanting all the way:

Sacklers lie, people die.

They made their way to the front steps where Goldin stood in front of a banner, held a pill bottle out in one hand, and continued her speech with the protesters gathered around her

We are just getting started! Read the facts! Read the stats! We’ll be back!

(Photos, Dung Ngo, Nora Burns; via ArtNews)

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