Artist #Nan_Goldin on addiction and taking on the #Sackler dynasty: ‘I wanted to tell my truth’
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.”
Goldin’s transformation from artist to activist is brilliantly traced in a new documentary feature film, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, which won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice film festival. It is directed by Laura Poitras, who is best known for her Academy Award-winning 2014 film Citizenfour, about the American whistleblower Edward Snowden. Poitras deftly weaves Goldin’s activism into the bigger story of her life and art, including the rawly intimate photographic projects such as The Ballad of Sexual Dependency and Sisters, Saints and Sibyls, that reflect how deeply the two are intertwined. From the off, her photography drew directly on her life and her circle of friends: bohemians, transexuals, addicts and fellow self-made artists in her native Boston and later in New York. Her style, often described as diaristic, has been enormously influential and made her one of the world’s most famous photographers, whose work now resides in prestigious museums and collections around the world.