Pressure builds on other institutions to disavow Sackler family over OxyContin, powerful painkiller linked to opioid deaths
Earlier this year at the Guggenheim in New York, activists objecting to donations from the Sackler family draped protest banners from the museums famous spiraling balconies, dropped flyers down through the atrium and pretended to die all over the floor. A gobsmacked public looked on.
In London, Tate Modern has escaped a similar fate.
On Thursday, the Tate group announced it would not take any more donations from the Sacklers, the family whose most prominent billionaire members own the company that makes OxyContin, a prescription painkiller implicated in Americas opioids crisis.
The company, Purdue Pharma, and eight leading Sackler family members are being investigated and sued, accused of knowingly misleading the public about the dangers of OxyContin and profiting from sales and marketing strategies that deceived doctors and rewarded them for over-prescribing the drug.
Those cases are drawing increasing attention, as are protests by activists who want arts and academic institutions in the US, UK and elsewhere to eschew Sackler money.
Tate Modern has received 4m from the Sacklers. Its central escalators are named for the family.
The American art photographer and activist Nan Goldin, whose campaign group Pain (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) was behind the demonstration at the Guggenheim and others at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is due to have an exhibition at Tate Modern, for a year from 15 April.
If Tate had not disavowed Sackler money by then, Goldin was ready to create chaos.
It was going to be creative, it was going to utilize the Sackler escalator that goes right up to the the gallery Im showing in, Goldin told the Guardian this week.
The effort potentially would have involved throwing thousands of fake prescriptions for OxyContin, like confetti, and showering the space with fake pill bottles. There would also have been a banner drop into the turbine hall, she said, as the group did in the atrium at the Guggenheim.
Goldin, who founded her campaign in early 2018, about a year into her recovery from a near-fatal addiction to opioids she suffered after being prescribed OxyContin in 2014, said she was so happy this would not have to happen.
The Tate decision came two days after the National Portrait Gallery in London said it was not going to take a 1m gift offered by the Sacklers. Last month, Goldin said she would decline a retrospective offered by the museum if it accepted the gift. Tate Modern had already purchased a copy of Goldins seminal work, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, so she could not have stopped the exhibition there.
Its not easy to give back money or get rid of a name
Purdue Pharma and the members of the Sackler family vigorously refute all allegations and deny wrongdoing.
Nonetheless, pressure is building on other institutions that have accepted millions from the branches of the family that became billionaires with profits from OxyContin while, according to one lawsuit, more than 200,000 people died in the US between 1999 and 2016 from overdoses directly related to prescription opioids.
On Friday, the Guggenheim also made a stunning announcement, as reported by the Hyperallergic.com online arts magazine. It would not, it said, accept future Sackler philanthropy.
A statement read: The Solomon R Guggenheim Museum received a total of $7m in gifts from members of the Mortimer D Sackler family initiated in 1995 and paid out through 2006 to establish and support the Sackler Center for Arts Education, which serves approximately 300,000 youth, adults, and families each year.
An additional $2m was received between 1999 and 2015 to support the museum. No contributions from the Sackler family have been received since 2015. No additional gifts are planned, and the Guggenheim does not plan to accept any gifts.
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