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In recovery, Nan Goldin calls on Harvard to reject money from family tied to OxyContin

Photographer Nan Goldin in 2011. Sean Gallup/Getty Images/file

Celebrated photographer Nan Goldin says the benefactor of Harvard’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum should be shunned by US arts organizations.

Goldin, who’s been drug-free for 10 months after entering a Massachusetts rehab center for an addiction to OxyContin, believes museums should no longer accept money from the Sacklers due to the family’s role in the manufacture of the powerful pain medication.

Using the hashtag #ShameOnSackler, the 64-year-old photographer is waging a campaign to make Harvard and others think twice before taking money from the Sacklers, who’ve donated millions of dollars to the Metropolitan Museum, the Guggenheim, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Louvre, and Harvard, among many others.


“I’m not asking the museums to give the money back,” Goldin told The Guardian. “But I don’t want them to take any more from the Sacklers, and I want them to put out statements in solidarity with my campaign.”

At issue is the Sackler family’s ownership of Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut company credited with inventing OxyContin. As the death toll from the opioid crisis increases, the Sacklers’ philanthropy has drawn increased scrutiny, including a fascinating expose in The New Yorker last year.

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum is one of three museums in the Harvard Art Museums. Its collection is dedicated to works from Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. Arthur Sackler is one of three brothers — Mortimer and Raymond are the others — who in the 1950s started the company that became Purdue Pharma.

According to The Guardian, Arthur Sackler’s daughter, Elizabeth, wrote a letter to Art Forum, to be published next month, in which she says her father’s stake in Purdue was sold and neither she nor her children have benefited from the sale of OxyContin.


To which Goldin, in the Guardian piece, responds: “She’s not off the hook.”

Elizabeth Sackler said in a statement, “The opioid epidemic is a national crisis and Purdue Pharma’s role in it is morally abhorrent to me. I admire Nan Goldin’s commitment to take action and her courage to tell her story. I stand in solidarity with artists and thinkers whose work and voices must be heard. My father, Arthur M. Sackler, died in 1987, before Oxycontin existed and his one-third option in Purdue Frederick was sold by his estate to his brothers a few months later. None of his descendants have ever owned a share of Purdue stock nor benefitted in any way from it or the sale of Oxycontin. I stand with all angry voices against abuse of power that harms or compromises any and all lives.”

A call to the Harvard Art Museums was not immediately returned Monday, but a Purdue Pharma rep checked in. “We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and we would welcome an opportunity to sit down with Ms. Goldin to discuss her ideas,” the company said.