For a second time, on Thursday, Nan Goldin’s anti-Sackler group, PAIN, protested at the Harvard Art Museums, one of the few arts institutions in the world to still bear the Sackler family.
As has been the case at other PAIN-organized protests, such as those held at the Guggenheim and the Met, protestors held a die-in, lying in the atrium of the Harvard Art Museums alongside students at the school that Goldin herself once attended. They specifically targeted the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, one of the three institutions under the umbrella of the Harvard Art Museums, and another building on campus named after the same patron.
The Sackler family has been widely blamed for inciting the opioid epidemic through the production of OxyContin, a painkiller with addictive properties that was manufactured by Purdue Pharma. In addition to running that company, members of the Sackler family were at one point important donors to museums across the world, from the Met to the Louvre.
Largely because of PAIN’s activism, most of those institutions have taken the Sackler name off their walls and said they will no longer accept gifts from the family’s members. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum remains an outlier in that regard.
Goldin founded PAIN in 2017 after herself becoming addicted to OxyContin. Her art, life, and activism were chronicled in Laura Poitras’s lauded 2022 documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.
At the Harvard Art Museums, PAIN and Harvard students rained down pamphlets and pill bottles in the atrium. “SHAME ON SACKLER,” read banners that some brought to the protest. PAIN last protested at Harvard in 2018.
On Instagram, the group said it had also sought to echo Harvard students’ demands that the school cut “ties to the legacy of white supremacists and slaveowners, whose names are displayed across campus.”
In a statement, Goldin said, “As an alumna of Harvard, I demand that the Sackler name be taken down. To claim that Arthur Sackler is innocent is historically inaccurate—he designed the corrupt pharmaceutical advertising scheme used by Purdue to flood America with Oxy, igniting the overdose crisis. He’s as responsible as any of the Sacklers.”
Jason Newton, director of communications at Harvard University, said in a statement, “The university has established a process for considering de-naming spaces, programs, or other entities. A proposal to de-name the Arthur M. Sackler Museum and the Arthur M. Sackler Building has been submitted and is currently under review.”