Sackler’s name will be removed from the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Sackler surname that graced the galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for nearly 50 years will be removed as the institution attempts to distance itself from a family accused of fueling the opioid crisis.

In a joint statement Thursday, the Met and descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler said they had “mutually agreed” to remove the family name from seven exhibition spaces, including the wing that houses the Temple of Dendur.

“Our families have been strong supporters of the Met, and we believe it is in the best interests of the museum and the important mission it serves,” the Sackler family members said.

Dan Weiss, president and chief executive of the Met, called it a “gracious gesture” that would help the museum serve future generations.

The company founded by the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma, manufactured and marketed OxyContin, a highly addictive painkiller that was at the center of the opioid epidemic in the United States.

In 2019 the Met, the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Tate group of galleries in the UK said they would no longer accept donations from the family. But institutions have struggled to override naming rights written into contracts, some of which date back decades. Some also fear jeopardizing funding sources, especially at a time when the pandemic has reduced attendance.

When asked if they were willing to do something similar at other institutions, a spokesperson for members of the Sackler family declined to comment.

The move marks one of the most visible instances in which a discredited surname has been removed from an institution that has benefited from his philanthropy. The Louvre removed the Sackler name from its Oriental Antiquities wing in July 2019.

Museums, universities and cultural institutions around the world are grappling with ethical dilemmas as wealthy donors who once seemed beyond reproach have suddenly become toxic over the revelations of various scandals.

At the same time, social activists have pressured the Met and others to return gifts or sever ties with benefactors they see as unpalatable.

Speaking to Time magazine in September, Weiss explained some of the complications.

“It is not for us to pass judgment on the responsibility or guilt of the Sacklers with incomplete information. It’s none of our business. We are not a court,” he said.

Weiss also noted that new information uncovered through court testimony and the book empire of pain by journalist Patrick Radden Keefe would allow the council “to make a more considered judgment”.

Last year, Purdue Pharma agreed to an $8.3 billion criminal and civil settlement with the US Department of Justice in connection with its role in fueling the opioid epidemic in the United States. . In a related civil settlement, members of the billionaire Sackler family who own Purdue agreed to pay $225 million while denying the allegations against them.

Mildred D. Field