Rejection, Redaction, Redirection: Jono Coles and Harrison Smith's The Deposition is a creative essay written in collaboration with Jono Coles that critically interrogates institutional accountability using the authors’ relationships to the Guggenheim, the Sackler family,1 and Purdue Pharma as a case study. The work was completed as the authors' contribution to the innaugural Guggenheim Summer Practicum.

For a decade following Purdue's 1995 release of OxyContin, the Sackler-owned company engaged in a number of deceptive marketing strategies that misrepresented the drug as non-addictive and more broadly applicable than had been determined to be safe.2 The resultant reckless over-prescription of OxyContin fueled what is now known as the “opioid epidemic.” Between 1999 and 2017, annual opioid-related deaths in America rose from approximately 6,400 to over 47,000.3 During that same time period, OxyContin sales produced over $32 billion in profits.4,5 By distributing a portion of these profits in philanthropic donations, the Sackler family embroiled a number of renowned art institutions in their ethical transgressions. Between 1995 and 2015, the Guggenheim museum accepted $9 million in donations from Mortimer D. Sackler and kin, and awarded his son a position on the museum’s board of trustees from 2003 to 2018.6 No public apology has been issued by Purdue Pharma or the Sackler family for their role in the opioid crisis, or the Guggenheim museum for their complicity.

To address this absence of atonement and speculate on its significance, Rejection, Redaction, Redirection analyzes a video artwork titled The Deposition, originally conceived of as the authors’ contribution to the practicum.7 The video work—which ultimately could not be pursued within the practicum for logistical and financial reasons—reimagines patriarch Richard Sackler’s only public statement on Purdue’s relationship to the opioid epidemic. Through analysis of The Deposition, the following creative essay positions an assessment of the Guggenheim’s relation to the Sacklers as necessary to realize the practicum’s goal of imagining “a sustainable future.” By reflexively focusing our work on the Guggenheim, we hope to critically consider “What might real institutional accountability look like?”

*This statement was first published by New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Sustainable Futures, a digital collection of projects produced for the inaugural session of the Guggenehim Summer Practicum.


Notes

1 In accordance with a legal agreement between the Sackler family and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, all mentions of the Sackler name were originally to be censored in the museum’s publication of this piece. Thanks to the dedicated advocacy of Guggenheim Summer Practicum mentors, the museum decided to break this agreement and publish the work in its uncensored form.

2 Barry Meier, Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America's Opioid Epidemic (New York: Penguin Random House), 2018.

3 Holly Hedegaard, Arialdi M. Miniño, and Margaret Warner, “Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2018,” National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, no. 356 (January 2020).

4 Barry Meier, “In Guilty Plea, OxyContin Maker to Pay $600 Million.” The New York Times, May 10, 2007.

5 Patrick Radden Keefe, “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” The New Yorker, October 30, 2017.

6 Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Service sources 1-15.

7 Though this work was conceptually developed and pitched to mentors of the Guggenheim Summer Practicum, the video was never actually made. Descriptions of The Deposition in this essay reflect the intended final product of the proposed video project.



Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Amy Boyle, Efe Igor, and Jackiie Popjes for their undying commitment to this project, and the integrity of the Guggenheim Practicum. Without their hard work, support and advice, this project would not have been possible. Additional thanks is due to Harry Cullen and Megan Kapler of P.A.I.N., whose guidance proved invaluable, and to Annie Rosenthal, Sadie Cook, Mariah Kreutter, and Nicholas Coles for their help revising the piece. Kanyinsola Anifowoshe, Mikki Janower, Allyson Tayao, Angela Higuera, and Hattie Shapiro provided crucial feedback throughout the development of this work, for which we are extremely grateful. Lastly, we would like to thank Jennifer Matesa for her strength, vulnerability, and expertise. This project could not have been done without her.


back