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Activists protesting the Sackler family in front of the Louvre in Paris on Monday, July 1. Courtesy of P.A.I.N.
Activists protesting the Sackler family in front of the Louvre in Paris on Monday, July 1. Courtesy of P.A.I.N.

Nan Goldin Leads Action at Louvre in First Sackler Protest in Europe

Photographer Nan Goldin and members of the activist group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) arrived in Paris on Sunday to prepare for the first European protest against the Sackler family, members of which own the private pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. Scores of demonstrators flocked to the Louvre—the most visited museum in the world—around 2:30 PM today to demand that the institution no longer accept funding from the Sacklers and to remove their name from several areas within its building.

Participants in the event included artists and local community members, as well as the French chapter of P.A.I.N. The group unfurled banners in front of the museum’s iconic pyramid designed by the late I.M. Pei, which read “Take Down the Sackler Name” and “Shame on Sackler.” Representatives of various NGOs also attended to speak to the crowd that assembled, and Goldin led one of her now-famous die-ins.

“Twelve rooms in the Louvre (in the Oriental Antiquities wing) are named after the Sacklers, following their donation of 10 million francs in 1997,” P.A.I.N. wrote in a statement provided to Artforum. (The gift was made one year after OxyContin appeared on the market.) “We do not accept that the Louvre bears the name of a family complicit in crime. We demand that the Louvre rename the Sackler wing and commit to refusing any criminal donations in the future.”

Goldin, who was awarded the title of Commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters in 2006—the French Ministry of Culture’s highest honor—first began campaigning to hold the Sacklers accountable for their role in the opioid crisis in the US in January 2018 after she told her own story about her struggle with addiction in the pages of this magazine. Since then, she has held numerous actions at cultural institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York and at universities such as NYU and Harvard and has achieved results.

Both the Met and the Guggenheim have pledged to stop taking money from the Sacklers. In the United Kingdom, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Tate, which has locations in London, Liverpool, and St. Ives, have done the same.

Earlier this year, the Sackler Trust, one of the charitable arms of the family, which claims to have donated more than $75 million to the arts, the sciences, and education in the UK, halted all philanthropic giving. While many activists saw this as a victory, for Goldin it is not enough. The artist not only wants the family to stop artwashing their money, she wants their fortune to be “clawed back” by the courts and used to fund safe treatment centers and outreach initiatives that will inform the public about the risks of the drug.

Purdue Pharma is currently facing more than 1,600 lawsuits filed by states, counties, and American Indian reservations across the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids between the years of 1999 and 2017; overdose fatalities quintupled during that time span.

While the situation in France is not as dire as it is in the US, the misuse of opioids in the country is on the rise, according to a 2018 report in US News. “There is a risk of an epidemic in France, but we’re still in a situation where we can avoid it,” psychiatrist Nicolas Authier, a specialist in pharmacology and addiction and the director of the French Observatory of Analgesic Drugs, told the publication. “We have unfortunately benefited from the North American opioid crisis and are even more vigilant about prescriptions and proper use.”

However, due to the pressures Purdue Pharma is facing in the US, P.A.I.N. fears that the company will increasingly turn its focus to other markets, including France, through its international branch Mundipharma, which Bloomberg describes as “a worldwide network of independent associated companies that Sackler family members control through trusts and other investment vehicles.”

France’s medical community has also begun to sound the alarm. On June 22, ninety doctors, addictologists, and other specialists signed a letter published in Le Journal du Dimanche urging the government to take action. “Twelve million French people use opiate drugs, without being alerted about their addictive potential and the risk of overdose,” the letter reads. “Hospitalizations for this reason doubled, deaths tripled.” Paris opened its first safe drug-consumption site, Gaia, in 2016. However, according to P.A.I.N., it is currently at capacity.

The signees are calling for general practitioners to undergo training to learn more about administering drugs such as Naloxone, a medication designed to block the effects of opioids in order to stop an overdose, and a major prevention campaign to alert people to the dangers of opioid use. They noted that there is currently a lack of consistency in how the French medical field treats patients dealing with addiction, which needs to be addressed.

A spokesperson for P.A.I.N. informed Artforum that it’s time for the Louvre to become the next institution to set an example by removing the Sackler name from its building. According to the group, the museum is well within its rights to do so since its internal bylaws state that room designations can be revoked at any time.

The Louvre did not respond to Artforum’s request for comment. This article will be updated as more information becomes available.

Nan Goldin standing with other activists in front of the Louvre in Paris on Monday, July 1. Courtesy of P.A.I.N.