The efforts of the Courtauld Gallery in London, who previously made headlines with its addition of ‘woke’ labels to some of the masterpieces of its collection to reach out to new audiences, is apparently paying off: two climate activists of the NGO “Just Stop Oil” super glued themselves on June 30th to the frame of a landscape painting by Vincent van Gogh because they’re “terrified” for their future, according to one of the protesters. A statement by “Just Stop Oil” clarified that this act of vandalism was meant “to call for the government to end new oil and gas, and for art institutions to join them in civil resistance.”
According to the NGO, the painting was chosen because it depicts Arles in the region of Provence, France, which is predicted to experience drought and extreme weather in the nearby future. According to the 21-year old protester, he knew the artwork since his childhood and remembers looking at it with reverence, but since the “future survival” of his generation was at stake, he had glued himself to the frame. The 21-year old earlier gained infamy for tying himself to a goalpost during a premier league football match.
“It is immoral for cultural institutions to stand by and watch whilst our society descends into collapse,” the protester said. “Galleries should close. Directors of art institutions should be calling on the government to stop all new oil and gas projects immediately. We are either in resistance or we are complicit.” The other protester, a 24-year old student, subscribed to much the same ideas, adding that artists were “focusing on the wrong things,” while everyone should be focusing on “the government’s genocidal plans to allow fossil fuel companies to drill for more oil.” The 24-year old added that she “can’t live in a bubble of normality when society is collapsing around us.”
According to a spokesperson of the Courtauld Gallery, the painting itself luckily wasn’t damaged, but the painting had to be removed from display to remove glue residue from the frame.
This wasn’t a singular incident, however. Only one day earlier, activists of “Just Stop Oil” glued themselves to another landscape painting at the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow, while members of the group sprayed logos of their NGO all over the walls and floors of the gallery, accompanied by talking points about resisting the nefarious support of the fossil fuel industry by the government.
And it’s not just members of “Just Stop Oil” either. Previously, on May 29th, a 36-year old man, dressed as an elderly woman in a wheelchair, used his disguise to get close to the Mona Lisa in Paris’ Louvre, only to jump out of his wheelchair, try to smash the security glass, and throw a cake at the protective glass protecting the Mona Lisa. When security removed him, he kept calling upon bystanders to “think about the Earth,” and that “there are people who are destroying the Earth.” Apparently “all artists” should “think about the Earth,” which is “why I did this,” the climate activist, who at some point was rumored to be part of Extinction Rebellion, shouted.
These incidents indicate an increasing willingness to damage, if not destroy, some of the artworks of our past in a bid to raise awareness and call people to action to save the planet. Some activist groups have already announced that they are more than ready to risk human lives for their cause. Tellingly, the artworks of choice are almost always the classics of Western art history, rather than contemporary or non-western art, which adds another layer to the deconstructivist tendencies of this kind of activism.
If activists are allowed to continue without grave repercussions, which is likely, it may only be a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ a great work of art from our past is severely damaged or destroyed.