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Fearing Protests, Sackler Trust and London’s National Portrait Gallery Scuttle Planned $1.32 M. Gift

The National Portrait Gallery.

JEFF BLACKLER/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Amid ongoing debate surrounding museums and institutions that receive funding from the Sackler family, which has been the subject of protest in connection to the ongoing opioid crisis, the National Portrait Gallery in London will abstain from a £1 million ($1.32 million) grant from the Sackler Trust. In a release posted to the museum’s press site, the National Portrait Gallery said the decision to do so was a mutual agreement between the museum and the Sackler Trust. The Art Newspaper first reported the news on Tuesday morning.

In a statement on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Sackler Trust said, “It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work. The allegations against family members are vigorously denied, but to avoid being a distraction for the NPG, we have decided not to proceed at this time with the donation. We continue to believe strongly in the gallery and the wonderful work it does.”

The news comes as lawsuits are being filed against Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company with ties to descendants of Mortimer Sackler and his brother Raymond, who worked got create and distribute the drug OxyContin. The company has reportedly contemplated filing for bankruptcy.

The National Portrait Gallery had been mulling what to do about the gift for about a year, after activists began calling on the museum to reject it in 2018. The museum has received no funds yet through the pledged gift, and reviewing the grant with its ethics committee is reportedly standard procedure for a donation at the institution. Nan Goldin, whose activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) has regularly protested museums that have received funding from the Sackler family, threatened to boycott the National Portrait Gallery in February.

First announced in 2016, the Sackler Trust’s planned gift was meant to support the National Portrait Gallery’s Inspiring People project, which the museum is touting as its largest development project in over a century. The project, which is expected to cost an estimated £35.5 million ($46.5 million), allows for a new entrance, a new learning center, and a redisplay of the collection, among other facets.

The scuttling of the gift marks a major turn in the activism surrounding Sackler-related ventures at art institutions. Goldin’s P.A.I.N. group has been key in raising awareness for the influx of Sackler funds at museums, having staged protests at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Harvard Art Museums in Boston, and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. At P.A.I.N.’s most recent protest, the group rained down leaflets about the opioid crisis at the Guggenheim Museum and then marched to the steps of the Met, where Goldin told a crowd, speaking of the Sacklers, “They should be in jail, next to El Chapo. They should be charged with murder.”

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