Don’t Call Her a Victim: After Surviving Opioids, Nan Goldin Goes After the Makers

Now she has been clean for a year. Ms. Goldin is still feeling her way back into a world filled with ghostly reminders of addiction, but she decided that she was strong enough for a new battle. That began recently when, in her most personal project yet, she publicly confronted OxyContin’s manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, and that company’s longtime owners, who are also prominent art patrons: the descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, two of three physician brothers who built Purdue Pharma into a pharmaceutical behemoth.

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Some art institutions bearing the Sackler name. Clockwise from top left, the Sackler Octagon, Tate Britain; Arthur M. Sackler Building in Cambridge, Mass.; the Sackler Courtyard, Victoria and Albert Museum in London; and the Sackler Wing in the British Museum.

Credit
Nan Goldin/Artforum

Foundations run by those members of the Sackler family have given tens of millions of dollars to institutions like the Victoria and Albert Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and the Dia Arts Foundation.

The January issue of Artforum published photographs by Ms. Goldin, including searing self-portraits, that depicted her life while addicted. They were accompanied by an essay in which she described her constant search for drugs: “I went from three pills a day, as prescribed, to eighteen. I got a private endowment and spent it all. Like all opiate addicts my crippling fear of withdrawal was my guiding force.”

She went on to announce the formation of an advocacy group and pressed the Sackler family and company — who, she wrote, “built their empire with the lives of hundreds of thousands” — to fund addiction treatment and education.

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Ms. Goldin’s room in Berlin, 2016.

Credit
Nan Goldin/Artforum

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