The Guggenheim Museum in New York City has joined the growing list of institutions to drop the name of the disgraced Sackler family. Owners of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, notorious for manufacturing and deceptively marketing the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, the Sacklers recently agreed to pay as much as $6 billion to settle lawsuits from communities devastated by the opioid epidemic in the United States. The latest settlement agreement also included a clause allowing museums and other entities that have received Sackler donations to strip the name from their halls, spaces, and endowed positions without penalty.
Formerly known as the Sackler Center for Arts Education and established through a $7 million gift from Mortimer D. Sackler, one of the original co-founders of Purdue Pharma, the Guggenheim’s arts learning hub is now known simply as the Center for Arts Education.
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News of the renaming, first reported by Artnet, was confirmed by a Guggenheim spokesperson, who told Hyperallergic that the decision was made jointly by the museum and the Mortimer D. Sackler family.
“We believe this decision is in the best interest of the Museum and the vital work it does,” the spokesperson added.
Last week, the National Gallery in London took down a sign bearing the Sackler name from a gallery dedicated to 17th- and 18th-century British artists, known as the Sackler Room since Mortimer and his wife Theresa donated funds to renovate the space in 1992. The Victoria and Albert Museum, whose public courtyard is named after the Sacklers, remains the last major British institution to retain the tainted name.
But the Guggenheim’s inconspicuous decision to rename its education center — the Sackler name was quietly removed on May 3, with no public statements or announcements from the museum — will be of particular significance to activists. The Guggenheim was an important locus of protests led by PAIN Sackler, the advocacy organization founded by artist Nan Goldin, which staged a “die-in” in the museum’s iconic spiral atrium in 2019. It was a milestone moment in a string of actions that paved the way for a reckoning with the Sacklers’ reliance on philanthropy to “art-wash” their opioid-built fortune. Shortly after, the Guggenheim announced that it would no longer accept gifts from the Sackler family, but the museum remained silent on the renaming question.
Last December, the Metropolitan Museum of Art renamed seven exhibition spaces that carried the Sackler name, including its famous Temple of Dendur room. The American Museum of Natural History’s Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics and the Sackler Educational Laboratory continue to carry the family name.