The US art photographer and activist Nan Goldin has led a demonstration outside the Louvre in Paris demanding that the world’s most visited museum change the name of its Sackler wing because some of the multibillionaire family of art philanthropists benefited from the business of addictive prescription painkillers.
In recent months Goldin has taken part in protests at US museums and threatened UK gallery boycotts over donations from one branch of the Sackler family, which has profited from the opioid crisis in the US as owners of the American pharmaceutical company that makes the highly addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin.
The Louvre demonstration on Monday was the first time Goldin had taken her international campaign to France. The artist waded into the fountains beneath the Louvre’s pyramid with more than a dozen activists carrying red banners saying “Take down the Sackler name”. About 40 demonstrators chanted “Shame on Sackler” as crowds of tourists looked on. One demonstrator lay down in the fountain and others played dead around the edge.
The Louvre’s Sackler wing is made up of 12 rooms of near eastern antiquities, including key pieces from the museum’s Persian collection. The Sackler name is prominent at many global art institutions after the family gave financial support.
The Louvre confirmed the Theresa and Mortimer Sackler foundation had donated to the refurbishment of its rooms of Persian and Levantine art in the period 1996 to 1997. No other donation from the Sackler family has been made to the museum since.
Demonstrators from the campaign group Pain (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) said they believed that, contractually, the Louvre was not bound in perpetuity to display the Sackler name. They urged it to be the first major museum able to remove the name from its galleries.
Goldin told the Guardian: “The museum world must act. I hope the Louvre understands that artists and activists are mobilised to get the name removed, and the Louvre could be the first museum to take the Sackler name down. Often there’s a domino effect among museums and galleries.”
In March, London’s National Portrait Gallery became the first major art institution to publicly turn down a grant from the Sackler family, in a move that campaigners said was a landmark victory in the battle over the ethics of arts funding. The gallery said it had jointly agreed it would “not proceed at this time” with a £1m donation from the branch of the family whose US pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma makes the opioid OxyContin. Goldin has also staged protests at the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Goldin said: “The Louvre is one of the world’s greatest museums and one of the most visited museums on earth. It has 12 Sackler rooms. But this crisis has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and it’s coming Europe’s way. This is an emergency.”
During the protest, Goldin, who currently has work on show at a modern art exhibition at the Palace of Versailles, wore her medal, Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, an honorary award from the French state for her art. “It’s the first time I’ve worn it,” she said.
Goldin began her campaign against the Sacklers after an addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. She has since demanded that arts institutions in the US and Britain refuse further Sackler donations and argued the family should instead pay for treatment and rehabilitation for opioid addicts.
The Louvre security guards allowed the protest to take place peacefully for more than 30 minutes before the activists moved away of their own accord.
Goldin said she would seek a meeting with museum staff to discuss the campaign to rename the Sackler wing.
A spokesperson from the Louvre confirmed that about 15 people were involved in the protest inside the fountain but declined to comment further.
Representatives for the branch of the Sacklers who own Purdue declined to comment.