Justifiable to some, blatant vandalism to others: Climate activism is now all about notorious Van Gogh paintings drenched in tomato soup and climate activists glueing themselves onto Monet’s Grainstacks.
When climate activists threw tomato soup at the iconic Van Gogh sunflowers at the National Gallery in London, we were all a little shocked. This happened a little over a month ago (14th of October, to be painstakingly precise), and the internet has revelled in trying to decide if this was a) a successful activism campaign b) a disaster for the arts community, or c) both.
One way or another, it has caught media traction. Every news outlet around the globe zoomed into the activist’s faces as they superglued themselves to the blue museum walls, wearing graphic “Just Stop Oil” t-shirts and holding the tomato soup, label in front, for all to see. Clever unwilling marketing stunt Kraft Heinz.
Despite being protected by glass panes (thank God for cautious art restorers), gallery directors warn activists are not entirely aware of the potential damage caused by their actions. But that is also precisely what the activists are targeting, and so far it seems they may have only damaged the painting’s frames, not the art itself. “What is worth more, art or life?” or “Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet?”, they chant.
According to Just Stop Oil, this form of message spreading has nothing to do with any form of hatred, or disrespect to art. “What we want to do is salvage a future where human creativity is still possible. We’re terrifyingly close to losing that, so we have to break the rules. And that means pushing cultural buttons to provoke, challenge and shock. There’s no other way.” they speak.
Whilst their previous road blocks and other forms of activism were making page 8 or 9 of the news, the art attacks became sensational headlines. “Most of all, it shocked people as attacking art is a huge act of cultural transgression. It breaks a taboo. Art is sacred in our culture – to attack it feels almost blasphemous.”
The act, however, is not necessarily a novelty. Acts of vandalism have actually been happening in the art world for years, albeit not to the same extent, or instilling such momentous panic in gallery curators. Mona Lisa has seen a rock thrown at her, damaging her brow, The Thinker was spray painted a tattoo or a hole has been punched in a Monet.
Here’s some of the paintings targeted so far:
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at The National Gallery in London
14th of October, 2022
Albeit not the first, certainly the most impactful, if anything because it was the least expected. The climate activists’ faces have been broadcasted worldwide, their acts of defiance leading many into in-depth discussions that try to assert just how effective this form of activism (or vandalism), is.
Claude Monet’s Grainstacks at the Barberini Museum in Germany
14th of October, 2022
Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre
30th of May, 2022
Van Gogh’s Peach Trees Blossom at London Courtauld Gallery
30th of June, 2022
Klimt’s Life and Death at the Leopold Museum in Vienna
15th of November, 2022
Emily Carr’s Seaside Landscape at Vancouver Art Gallery
12th of November, 2022
Vincent Van Gogh’s Sower at Sunset at Palazzo Bonaparte in Rome
4th of November, 2022
Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring at The Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague
27th of October, 2022
So… What happens next?
For the art, probably some long and expensive cleanup procedure. Those with damaged frames will also have to undergo some serious reparations, but you’ll be pleased to know most have already been dealt with (praise the 21st century’s technology, right?). As for the activists themselves, they could be facing some time in jail.
In light of COP27, which has taken place in Egypt and is finishing today, and seemingly not moving forwards, climate solutions are at the forefront of the global audience. The UN recently released a draft list of agreements for COP27 as global leaders continue to discuss the future of climate action in a world that has just reached a staggering population of 8 billion people.
As for the impact of the climate activists… we’re not so sure. Whilst the first couple of acts did succeed in headlining and capturing the general public’s attention, the lat few months have seen so many art attacks that they no longer serve their initial purpose. They have, as so many other things, become lost in the never-ending media race towards the next headline story. Art attacks have, to put it bluntly, become old news – and nothing seems to have changed because of it.