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The Met removes Sackler name from its galleries

Visitors tour the Sackler Wing during the public reopening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in August 2020. (Jeenah Moon for The Washington Post)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Thursday that it will remove the Sackler name from seven exhibition spaces, including the wing that houses the Temple of Dendur, a move that comes after years of public protests over the museums’ relationship with the family behind OxyContin.

In a joint statement with descendants of Mortimer and Raymond Sackler, the Met said the family agreed to the move “to allow the Met to further its core mission.”

“The Met has been built by the philanthropy of generations of donors — and the Sacklers have been among our most generous supporters,” said Daniel H. Weiss, president and chief executive of the Met. “This gracious gesture by the Sacklers aids the Museum in continuing to serve this and future generations. We greatly appreciate it.”

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Brothers Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond Sackler made their fortunes starting with a company they bought in 1952. (Raymond and Mortimer bought out Arthur’s share after his death in 1987.) Purdue Pharma, which manufactured OxyContin, was formed in 1991.

The brothers donated to dozens of high-profile institutions, both individually and jointly, including the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate and Victoria and Albert museums in London, the Louvre in Paris, and Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities. In 2019, the Louvre became the first major museum to remove the family’s name.

Donations from the Sacklers to the Met go back almost 50 years, according to the museum. In 2019, the museum said it would not accept any more gifts from the family.

“Our families have always strongly supported The Met, and we believe this to be in the best interest of the museum and the important mission that it serves,” the unnamed descendants said in the statement.

The Met’s Arthur M. Sackler Chinese Stone Sculpture Gallery remains.

Jillian Sackler, Arthur’s widow and president of the Dame Jillian and Dr. Arthur M. Sackler Foundation for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities said through her spokeswoman that she was not part of the negotiations with the Met.

“My late husband Arthur had nothing whatsoever to do with OxyContin, which his brothers Mortimer and Raymond launched nearly a decade after Arthur’s death. Arthur did not profit from OxyContin, and thus not a penny of his philanthropic gifts were derived from sales of OxyContin,” she said. “As such, I fully expect that the name of the Arthur M. Sackler Chinese Stone Sculpture Gallery — the first gallery for Asian Art at the MET, opened in 1965 — will remain intact.”

Arthur M. Sackler donated $4 million and 1,000 pieces of his Asian art collection, valued at $50 million, to build the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, next to the Freer Gallery of Art. Arthur Sackler died months before the museum opened.

In 2019, the Smithsonian began calling the Freer Sackler the National Museum of Asian Art. The change was a “rebranding” that was not related to the protests, officials said at the time. The same year, the Smithsonian announced it would not take any more donations from the Sacklers.

A Smithsonian spokeswoman said, for now, the museum will not remove the Sackler name.

Nan Goldin, a photographer who led protests in museums around the world, including the Smithsonian in 2018, said she felt vindicated by the Met’s decision and proud of the work of her group, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or PAIN.

“We did our first action four years ago at the Met,” Goldin said. “We hope this is a template for other museums to do the same. (The Met) has been brave and they have done the right thing, and now everyone can follow them.”

Patrick Radden Keefe, author of “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty,” called the Met’s decision a huge development in a Twitter post. “Hard to overstate the significance of this for other museums & universities. Many institutions around the world that still prominently display the Sackler name have been watching the Met as a bellwether, to determine if inaction remains an option,” he wrote.

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