The Sacklers are one of the richest families in America. And even if you’ve no idea who they are or what they do, you may well have seen the name: Sackler is stamped on art institutions all around the world, from London to New York.
But in recent months, museums and galleries have started removing the Sackler name from their exhibitions, wings and educational centres. The likes of the National Gallery in London, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre in Paris have all decided to remove any mention of the billionaires from their walls.
So why have the Sacklers become so toxic? Well, leading members of the family are alleged to have close ties with Purdue Pharma, the company that produces a pain relief medication called OxyContin. OxyContin – and the aggressive marketing of the drug – is accused of being a key contributor to the devastating opioid crisis sweeping the US, which has lasted for more than two decades and continues to cause tens of thousands of deaths every year.
The drive to rid museums and galleries of the Sackler name stems from a campaign by American photographer – and previous opioid addict – Nan Goldin. Since 2018 Goldin has been protesting for institutions around the world to cut ties with the Sacklers, demanding that they remove the name and stop taking the family’s money.
The practice of putting money behind artistic institutions in order to associate them with the names of wealthy people and companies (sometimes called art-washing) is rife across the art world. And up until a few months ago, the Sacklers were notorious art-washers. Parts of the Met and the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate museums, British Museum and Serpentine Galleries in London, and the Louvre in Paris all bore the Sackler name.
But, thanks to Goldin, all have since distanced themselves from the Sacklers and their reputation. Most recently, the Guggenheim has chosen to rename its educational wing and the National Gallery has removed mention of the Sacklers from Room 34, which the family previously sponsored.
If you’d think that being publicly associated with a family accused of being responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths would discourage all museums from bearing the Sackler name, well, you’d be wrong. There are actually still quite a few institutions that haven’t backed down – notably London’s V&A and the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
In any case, it can only be a good thing that much of the art world is ditching the Sacklers and refusing to allow the family to disguise its negative public image with public sponsorships. Maybe advertising for oil companies, who are responsible for the devastation of our planet’s natural resources, will face its reckoning next, eh?
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