Artist Nan Goldin took on the pharmaceutical billionaires of the Sackler family. A new documentary reveals how she and other activists stood up to the bosses
By charlie kimber
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Tuesday 18 July 2023
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a story of personal revenge and anti-corporate activism mixed with the life and work of an artist.
The documentary begins as activists gather to die at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Instantly reflects that jittery, stomach-churning feeling before a big, nervous action.
As security guards hang around, protesters begin chanting: “100,000 dead”, “Temple of money, temple of greed”, “The Sacklers lie, people die” and “The Sacklers knew their pills would kill”. Then they go to bed.
The Sackler family company, Purdue Pharma, benefited from the US opioid crisis. The enormous wealth they reaped allowed them to spend millions on the arts. The art world welcomed them as great supporters of culture.
Before taking on the Sacklers, Goldin was known for his photography and slideshow projects, such as exploring the world of Boston drag queens.
Director Laura Poitras places Goldin’s personal story in a larger context. Goldin was prescribed OxyContin for pain relief and became addicted to the drug almost immediately.
In the 1980s, Goldin told The Guardian newspaper, it took her a long time to become addicted to heroin. But with OxyContin, she was hooked in 48 hours, and within two weeks, she was taking 15 pills a day.
It was during recovery that he began to realize the magnitude of the problem. Between 1999 and 2017, there were 200,000 overdose deaths from OxyContin and other prescription opioids. When Goldin moved to expose the Sackers, about 145 people were dying every day from opioid overdoses.
He created the campaign organization Prescription Addiction Intervention Now (Pain) in part to reveal the seedy source of Sackler’s wealth. Eventually, through dogged and confrontational action, Pain forced galleries like the Louvre and Guggenheim to withdraw Sackler’s name.
The Tate Modern in London received £4 million from the Sacklers. Its central escalators are named after the family.
Goldin threatened that if Tate management did not break the connection with Sackler, it would create chaos. The plan was to dump thousands of fake OxyContin prescriptions like confetti and shower the space with fake pill bottles. There would also have been “a fallen banner in the turbine room,” he said.
the tate they gave in Some institutions were slower. London’s Victoria & Albert Museum held out as long as it could before admitting: “I was so happy about it,” says Goldin, “because it seemed like they were never going to do the right thing.”
Goldin never had high hopes for art world patrons. “If you scratch the skin of any billionaire, there are usually bodies after his money. I mean, name an ethical billionaire? He is difficult. And the forums are still full of such people, ”he says.
“There is no accountability for the rich. All of these billionaires are protected by huge legal teams, pumping money into the state and Congress to keep laws unchanged. It doesn’t matter who is in power, Republicans or democratsAmerica is totally broken and it’s scary.”
There is a heartbreaking scene in the film in which Goldin and other activists crowd around a screen to watch a federal court proceeding in which board members Theresa and David Sackler listen to testimony from those who have lost their loved ones. dear ones because of OxyContin.
“I am one of the survivors of his monumental greed,” says one man. “I hope that the face of each victim haunts you every waking moment, and sleeping moments as well.”
The tape is followed by video testimonials from the parents. A man who lost his child concludes: “I want to point out to the Sacklers that when this two-hour hearing is over, they can add 16 more people to their death list.”
All the beauty and bloodshed is available on BBC iPlayer