The Louvre museum in Paris has ended its overt association with an American family of prominent philanthropists following protests over their role in the opioid crisis in the US.
Persian and Levantine artifacts at the Louvre have been housed in the Sackler Wing of Oriental Antiquities since 1993.
On Wednesday Le Monde reported that the Louvre has put tape over the Sackler name and a plaque acknowledging the family’s donations has been removed. References to the Sackler Wing have also been taken off the Louvre’s website.
The move follows pressure from PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) who fight to get museums and cultural institutions to cut ties with the philanthropic Sackler family because of its ownership of Purdue Pharma, the company that manufactures OxyContin, a painkiller involved in the opioid crisis.
On 1 July PAIN demonstrated in front of the Louvre under a banner reading “Take down the Sackler name”. They demanded the Louvre rename the wing.
Questioned on Tuesday about whether the museum would change the name of the Sackler wing, the president of the Louvre, Jean-Luc Martinez told RTL radio that while he didn’t want to contribute to the controversy “this naming dates back to 1993 […] In our regulations at the Louvre, this naming lasts for 20 years. So I don’t need to change the name of these rooms since they don’t bear the Sackler name anymore.”
Martinez declined to comment as to how mentions of the “Sackler Wing” had remained on its walls for the last six years.
Louvre the “first to de-baptise”
PAIN congratulated the Louvre on its distancing from the Sackler name.
“It’s a source of satisfaction, even if it’s half-toned in view of the way the Louvre has reacted,” a spokesperson for PAIN told Le Monde, adding that they regretted the decision hadn’t been made officially.
Over the last few months, London’s National Portrait Gallery and Tate Gallery, New York’s Metropolitan Museum and Guggenheim have all refused donations from the Sackler family following the opioid scandal.
But the Louvre is the first to remove references to the family’s philanthropy. “It’s the first to de-baptise,” said a spokesperson for PAIN. “It will be an example for other museums to follow.”
The backlash against the Sacklers followed revelations about their involvement in the US’s opioid crisis.
The Sackler family made its fortune (estimated by Forbes at $14 billion) as owners of Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the opioid painkiller OxyContin.
OxyContin has been blamed for the opioid epidemic which U.S. health authorities claim caused 47,000 deaths through overdoses in 2017.
Purdue has been criticised for dishonest marketing practices: pushing OxyContin on patients who didn’t need it and encouraging prescription of doses which render the drug more addictive. Users have been pushed towards stronger drugs like fentanyl and heroine.
In May, five states in the U.S. announced that they were taking legal action against Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family, accusing them of deceptively pushing powerful painkillers and misrepresenting the drugs’ safety.