read nan goldin’s powerful new essay on opioid addiction

The legendary photographer's new project is taking on those responsible for the opioid crisis.

by Hannah Ongley
03 January 2018, 6:43pm

Nan Goldin’s art has always had an activist slant. She’s probably one of the few people on this earth who truly knows it means to live with HIV, despite never having contracted the disease herself, by documenting the friends she’d soon lose to the devastating 80s epidemic. “Most of my community was lost to AIDS,” Goldin writes in a deeply personal new Artforum essay announcing her next project. “I can’t stand by and watch another generation disappear.”

Goldin is referring to the opioid epidemic, a crisis she has first-hand experience with. Her newest photographs include self-portraits of the artist visibly strung out, and her bedcover littered with the residue of crushed pills — the near-fatal outcome of a recent Oxycontin addiction that literally developed overnight, after Goldin was prescribed the drug for surgery in Berlin. She’s now clean, and is using her photos from this time to take on the family she sees as responsible for the opioid epidemic the Sacklers — of Perdue Pharma, which has made a fortune by manufacturing and misbranding Oxycontin.

The Sacklers also happen to be one of the most prominent names in arts philanthropy. Goldin’s new series is titled Sackler/Pain, and includes photos of the various donations the family has made to famous museums — including the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Goldin has also founded a new group, P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), to hold the Sacklers accountable for philanthropy that thrives on suffering. “I decided to make the private public by calling them to task,” Goldin writes. “My first action is to publish personal photographs from my own history.”

Golden’s essay is a devastating account of how she returned to New York from Berlin, went from three pills per day to 18, and eventually overdosed after snorting fentanyl once she’d used up all her Oxy money. “I wanted to get clean, but I waited a year to go into treatment because of my fear of withdrawal,” she writes. “Then in January I went into rehab for two and a half months. I was one of the fortunate ones who could afford an excellent hospital, which isn’t an option for most people.” Goldin has now been clean for around a year.

“To get their ear we will target their philanthropy,” Goldin writes of her current plans. “They have washed their blood money through the halls of museums and universities around the world. We demand that the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma use their fortune to fund addiction treatment and education. There is no time to waste.” Check out the Instagram and Twitter accounts at the handle @sacklerpain and read Nan’s powerful essay here. It might make your next visit to the Brooklyn Museum or Metropolitan Museum of Art feel very different.

nan goldin