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Nan Goldin Threatens to Boycott London’s National Portrait Gallery over Gift from Sackler Trust

Photographer and activist Nan Goldin has declared that she will boycott London’s National Portrait Gallery if it accepts a gift of more than $1 million from the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the powerful painkiller OxyContin, The Observer reports.

According to the British newspaper, the artist—who made headlines recently for her protests at cultural institutions that have accepted donations from members of the Sackler family, which has made billions off of the sale of the drug—is planning to turn down the institution’s major retrospective of her work. “I would not do it if they take Sackler money,” Goldin said.  

The artist and her P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) group have been pressuring institutions to refuse gifts from the family and to review and tighten their policies on accepting donations, particularly from controversial donors. Goldin led a protest against the Sacklers at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York last weekend, followed by a rally on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art—both institutions feature the Sacklers’ name prominently in their buildings.

Goldin, who became active in the fight to end the opioid crisis after struggling with addiction herself, told The Observer she spoke to the director of the gallery, Nicholas Cullinan, on the phone about the gift. “He acknowledged they are in discussion [about the donation] and there will be a final decision in March.” She added: “I was very surprised at his openness. I really feel it’s so important museums listen to their artists, rather than their philanthropists.”

When Artforum inquired about the donation, which has been held up since June 2016, the National Portrait Gallery issued the following response: “The gallery is in regular contact with a range of artists about potential future displays and exhibitions, including Nan Goldin, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment on projects which are still being discussed. The grant pledged by the Sackler Trust is going through our internal review process in line with our ethical fundraising policy and charitable objectives.”

The trust is overseen by the London-based branch of the family, which also runs the Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation. According to the Evening Standard, the two charitable organizations have committed more than $100 million to philanthropy.

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