Protesters took to New York’s Fifth Avenue on the evening of February 9th on route from the Guggenheim Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to speak out against the Sackler Family and their affiliation with the Met. Carrying red banners that read ‘TAKE DOWN THEIR NAME’ and ‘200 DEAD EACH DAY’, protesters chanted ‘Shame of Sackler’ and ‘Same on the Met’ amongst other cries.
Anti-opioid activists and members of P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), an activist group lead by photographer Nan Goldin, began the evening at the Guggenheim where a die-in was staged. Visitors watched as banners were unrolled the same red banners that they would use outside the Met from the spiralling corridor that lines the museum’s rotunda. Leaflets, resembling written prescriptions were thrown from above to rain down on those symbolically falling to the floor to represent those who have died due to their opioid addiction. The faux prescriptions read: ‘WE HAVE TO HAMMER ON THE ABUSTERS IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE. THEY ARE THE CULPRITS OF THE PROBLEM. THEY ARE RECKLESS CRIMINALS.’
The prescription bears a copy of Richard Sackler’s name who wrote these words in a damming 2001 email that is part of the evidence against the Sackler family in an ongoing lawsuit in Massachusetts. At the time of the email, Sackler was the president of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, founded by the Sacker brothers, Arthur, Raymond (father of Richard Sackler), and Mortimer, and responsible for the creation and marketing of OxyContin, an incredibly addictive opioid.
At the steps of the Met, activists gave speeches from the steps of the museum as spectators, protestors, security guards, and police looked on. Robert Suarez and Alexis Pleus, both of which have lost family members due to the opioid crisis, Goldin, director of the Rhode Island Users Union Michael Galipeau, and L.A. Kauffman, a regular within P.A.I.N., were among those that spoke out. Sackler, reading from prepared words, said to the crowd: ‘We’re here to call out the Sackler family, who has become synonymous with the opioid crisis […] We’re here to call out the museums who allow the Sackler name to line their halls, tarnish their wings, to honor the family who made billions off the bodies of hundreds of thousands.’
During her speech, Goldin is directly referencing the large donations gifted by the Sackler family to art institutions worldwide. At the Guggenheim, the Sackler Center was a gift from Mortimer Sackler’s family. Mortimer died in 2010 but family members of his have been listed in the lawsuit against the Sackler family in relation to the opioid crisis. The Met’s Sackler Wing was a gift from the Sackler brothers in 1978. The widow of Arthur Sackler, who died in 1987, has emphasized that her husband was not a part of this mess given that he died a number of years prior to the creation of OxyContin.
In January the Met vowed to revisit their policies concerning how gifts are vetted but this did not suffice for Goldin who said: ‘The Met has done nothing. They said they are looking at their gifting policies. What does that mean? They have not done anything. We are going to come back every year until something happens.’
Saturday’s protest comes nearly a year after P.A.I.N. organized a die-in at the Met’s Temple of Dendur, which bears the Sackler name, in March of 2018. Many of those who came out this year were a part of the protests last year and Goldin has vowed that the group will be back every year until consequences come to the Sackler family.