Waldemar Januszczak writes half-decent art criticism for the masses, not often enough to make him a must-read, but still. At least, unlike most of our art critics – and just about all their music equivalents – he’s not actively subversive.
When he stays within the confines of his own field, that is. Beyond its boundaries, a minefield beckons, and his writing explodes into a fountain of dross mixed with manure.
In today’s piece he champions the cause of the American ‘artist’ (in fact, photographer) and barefaced liar Nan Goldin in her attack on the Sackler family, one of the most generous sponsors of art in Britain.
The family’s name adorns the Sackler Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy, the Sackler Courtyard at the V&A, the Sackler Room at the National Gallery and the Sackler Research Forum at the Courtauld Institute.
Now Goldin insists that the name be removed from all those places and the Sackler money be thrown back into the family’s face.
Why? Because the Sacklers are single-handedly culpable for the opioid epidemic that’s devastating America and will soon devastate Britain as well. More to the point, that criminal family is directly responsible for the drug addiction that Goldin herself first enjoyed but then got to bemoan.
Reading this, you may have flashing through your mind those French Connection images, with Miss Goldin in the role Gene Hackman performed in the original film.
Like him, the ‘artist’ must have been abducted and force-injected with junk to turn her into an addict, with one of the Sacklers pushing the syringe into her vein, and two more holding her down.
Well, not quite. You see, that pernicious clan owns the pharmaceutical company Purdue, which back in the 1990s developed the opioid OxyContin, one click down on the painkiller scale from intravenous dimorphine (aka heroin).
Both drugs have since alleviated the agonising suffering of millions of patients, including me, at a low point in my medical history (there have been few high points).
Naturally, like most other such medicines, OxyContin eventually made its way into the street, where it has acquired a great deal of cred. That is the nature of the epidemic that so upsets Goldin and, vicariously, Januszczak.
He jumps on her bandwagon with both feet by using his quick pen to describe the horror of dying from an overdose: “Everything fails. So you splutter, you gurgle, you gulp, vomit and die.”
Dear me, how very awful. But no more awful than dying from an overdose of paracetamol, which destroys the liver where it’s metabolised, and the person’s insides bleed out.
An overdose of aspirin isn’t much nicer either, for the drug can produce a massive internal haemorrhage. Should charities then reject donations made by the makers of such remedies, all those Bayers and Johnson & Johnsons?
Definitely, if you follow Goldin’s logic endorsed by Januszczak.
Goldin’s tumble into addiction started iatrogenically, when she was prescribed three tablets of OxyContin a day post-op. According to her, she was addicted ‘overnight’, and that’s where the barefaced liar bit comes in.
For it’s physiologically impossible to be addicted overnight; only extended use can do that. Even so, addiction isn’t cancer – one can get rid of it if one so wishes. All those stories about the nightmares of withdrawal are hogwash.
I can testify to that from personal experience. For after a month of heroin dripping into my vein, I was discharged from hospital on the same three tablets of OxyContin a day.
Since, unlike Goldin, I rely on using my brain and therefore don’t want it to be addled, I found the ensuing high to be rather low. When my pain dropped from excruciating down to just about bearable, I got off – and immediately experienced withdrawal symptoms.
Even those of you who’ve never been addicted to anything know exactly what those symptoms are like because, rather than evoking the images of Goya’s Caprichos, they are indistinguishable from a mild cold.
When I realised I was addicted, I went back on Oxy and then titrated the dose down over a week. That’s it; clean as a whistle.
Penelope even dumped a rather large supply of leftover Oxy into the bin, which offended my sense of fiscal responsibility.
After all, she could have sold the lot in the street at £10 a pop. Her only excuse was that those events unfolded in rural France, with no approximation of King’s Cross anywhere in sight.
To be serious, I made one choice – conscious, uncoerced, unprompted – and Goldin made another. Rather than gradually decreasing the dose, she chose to up it, until she was on 18 tablets a day. She then graduated to fentanyl, which almost killed her.
Tough. Yet we all lie in the bed we make (and some of us even choose to leave it unmade and collect the Turner Prize for such slovenliness).
Goldin and she alone is to blame for her troubles. Had she chosen the path of sensible restraint rather than reckless hedonism, she wouldn’t have become addicted. And had she decided to come off drugs, she could have done so at any moment.
Yet she was stupid and irresponsible, and she has no one to blame but herself. Or rather that’s how it would be had the culture of personal responsibility for one’s actions not fallen by the wayside.
“It’s all society’s fault” is a mantra routinely heard in our courts, and outside the courts the mantra is modified to lay the blame on anyone else rather than the person himself.
So Goldin cretinously blames the makers of the drug that has relieved so much suffering when properly used. But why stop there?
If the Sacklers are responsible for Goldin’s stupidity, why not blame car makers, all those Fords and BMWs, for road deaths caused by incompetent drivers? Or, say, Solingen and Sabatier for the people killed with their firm’s knives? Or cake makers for the heart attacks suffered by obese gluttons?
Now Goldin is refusing to lend her work to the National Portrait Gallery unless it turns down a proposed donation of £1m from the Sacklers. “The gallery has yet to decide whether to accept or not,” writes Januszczak. “My hope is that it sides with Goldin.”
And my hope is that one day we’ll again have art critics like John Ruskin, who often wrote debatable, at times infuriating, things – but never moronic ones.