Stamford, Connecticut art gallery owner Fernando Luis Alvarez was arrested Friday morning after he allegedly helped place a nearly 11-foot-long, 800-pound drug spoon sculpture outside the corporate headquarters of drugmaker Purdue Pharma and refusing orders to remove the artwork.
According to a report from the New York Daily News, the giant steel sculpture was created by artist Domenic Esposito as part of an exhibit hosted at Alvarez’s Stamford gallery and served as a protest against the handling of the ongoing opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma is being sued by multiple state and local governments for allegedly selling the opioid painkiller OxyContin with “deceptive marketing,” thereby helping further the opioid problem in the U.S.
A separate report from the Hartford Courant noted that Alvarez chose to place the drug spoon sculpture outside Purdue Pharma because he wanted to “create a groundswell of outrage” against the company and its majority owners, the Sackler family. The company had notably pleaded guilty in 2007 to mislabeling OxyContin and willingly misleading the public about the risks involved in taking the painkiller and was asked to pay $600 million.
Alvarez was reportedly informed by police that he might have to pay for the sculpture’s removal and storage after he placed it in an automotive drop-off spot. The Hartford Courant specified that the art gallery owner was charged with a criminal misdemeanor because his actions prevented people from using the spot, and received a felony charge because he allegedly refused to remove it. The spoon was removed by workers at around 10:45 a.m. on Friday, and taken to police headquarters, where it will be registered as evidence.
“I have been extremely bothered and moved by the architects of this epidemic. I want to hold this family responsible for what they created and put in front of society and created a modern-day massacre,” said Alvarez.
Domenic Esposito, the Boston-based artist who made the drug spoon sculpture, was present when the artwork was installed, but was not charged or arrested. He explained that his brother, Danny, who developed an addiction to heroin after initially getting hooked on OxyContin and Percocet, served as the inspiration for the sculpture. Esposito also told reporters that Danny is “lucky to be alive” after overdosing repeatedly over the past 14 years or so.
“People say [OxyContin and Percocet] aren’t a big deal, but then you’re hooked and you run out of money and you turn to heroin.”
Purdue Pharma reacted to the drug spoon sculpture by issuing a prepared statement on Friday morning, explaining that it shares protesters’ concerns about the U.S. opioid epidemic, and is “committed to working collaboratively” with people affected by the crisis and coming up with ways to curb opioid addiction in the country.