Artist Nan Goldin on addiction and taking on the Sackler dynasty: ‘I wanted to tell my truth’

Nan Goldin at home in Brooklyn, New York, 2022
Nan Goldin at home in Brooklyn, New York, 2022: ‘OxyContin attaches to your brain immediately. That’s what happened with me.’ Photograph: Ali Smith/The Observer

The American photographer’s battle against the billionaires who fuelled the opioid epidemic upended the art establishment. As a film about her life is released, she talks about family tragedy and her journey from drug abuse to activism

In September 2016, I met with Nan Goldin in C Wing of Reading Gaol. She was there alongside several other artists at the invitation of Artangel, the London-based organisation that specialises in often ambitious site-specific installations. The ensuing group exhibition paid homage to Oscar Wilde, the prison’s most famous inmate, whose writings Goldin first encountered as a teenager. The message she took from his life and work, she told me, “is that you can remake yourself completely.”

Since then, that is in effect what she has done, becoming a high-profile activist who has used her status as an artist to radically change the landscape of the American and European art world. Goldin’s much-publicised war on the billionaire Sackler dynasty, whose company, Purdue Pharma, fuelled the deadly opioid epidemic in America, has resulted in the family’s name being removed from a raft of major galleries and museums, including the Tate, the Louvre and the Guggenheim. For a long time, the Sackler name was a byword for almost unparalleled philanthropy and largesse towards the arts; it is now synonymous with shame and misery on an even grander scale. “If that’s what a group of 12 people can do,” says Goldin, referring to the friends and assistants who form the core of her small, but dramatically effective, organisation, Pain (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), “then anything is possible.”

Check Also

‘I tend to avoid moral statements’: the Mexican artist looking at oil, wealth and history

Post Views: 9 ‘I tend to avoid moral statements’: the Mexican artist looking at oil, …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *