why activists stick to van Gogh
“If Picasso were alive, I think he would have painted pictures about the climate, the climate emergency and the kind of involvement of the fossil fuel industries and their links to war.”
Activists armed with superglue and theory art did the same at a series of protests in the UK and Europe earlier this year.
At the National Gallery in London in July, Just Stop Oil campaigners covered The Hay Wainan 1821 bucolic landscape by John Constable, with posters depicting the same scene on fire with belching chimneys in the background.
The following day, militants glued themselves to the framework of The last supper – a 1520 copy of da Vinci’s masterpiece by his pupil Giampietrino – at the Royal Academy in London.
Shortly after, activists from the Italian climate action group Ultima Generazione (last generation) targeted Botticelli Primaverawhich has 500 plant species, in protest against the loss of biodiversity.
The band members also entered the Vatican Museum and made sure to Laocoön and his sonsa 2,000-year-old Roman statue of a priest who urged his people to burn the Trojan Horse as they entered Troy, but were ignored.
“We have to understand immediately that there will be no art in a collapsing planet,” said an Ultima Generazione protester who stuck to a statue of Boccioni in Milan. “That’s why we’re asking cultural institutions to take our side and put pressure on the government.”
Demonstrations are also a creative way to get media coverage. As a Just Stop Oil spokesperson said The New York Times, when the group invaded the oil terminals, no one paid attention; but news that they had superglued their hands to van Gogh’s frame Peach trees in bloom has gone global.
Targeting famous works of art certainly guarantees international coverage, but Lloyd says the activists’ “complex message” is often swallowed up by the show. And the protests have also drawn anger, including from then UK Culture Minister Nadine Dorries.
Australian surrealist painter Reg Mombassa, who recently opened an exhibition in Sydney dedicated to extinction and the climate crisis, says he “wouldn’t like people destroying works of art”, but he admires the work of activists as climate change “accelerates alarmingly”.
“It’s often very risky and stressful for them,” he says. “I don’t know if that changes the minds of those who don’t believe there is a problem with the climate. I guess that worries people who care.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Gallery and the NGV did not respond to questions asking whether they feared more activists would target their works.
A spokesperson for the Art Gallery of NSW said: “While the campaigners’ concerns are shared in the community, their current outreach strategy poses great risks to the works of art that art museums are tasked with. to preserve for future generations.”
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