Austrian climate activists poured a dark, oily liquid all over the “Death and Life” painting by famed artist Gustav Klimt Monday morning at a Vienna museum, the latest a series of vandalism that activists hope will bring attention to climate change—although their tactics have generated condemnation from the art world.
Activists from the climate protest group Letzte Generation poured what they described as oil all over Klimt’s painting at the Leopold Museum, saying in a statement the move was meant to show how “new oil and gas wells are a death sentence for humanity” (the museum said in a statement that neither the painting or the original frame was damaged thanks to a layer of glass protecting the work).
Spanish climate activists from the group Futuro Vegetal poured red and brown slime—which they said represented blood and oil—from plastic Coca-Cola bottles onto the case of a replica mummy at the Egyptian Museum in Barcelona over the weekend, holding a banner that read “COPca-Cola,” meant to argue the COP27 climate summit in Egypt is hypocritical for accepting a sponsorship from the world’s leading plastics polluter (the museum strongly condemned the act).
Four days later, three activists were arrested at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, in the Netherlands, when a man wearing a “Just Stop Oil” T-t-shirt attempted to glue his hand to 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s iconic “Girl With A Pearl Earring” while another poured tomato soup on the painting.
Earlier in November, four activists with the group Ultima Generazione threw pea soup at van Gogh’s 1888 painting “The Sower” at the Palazzo Bonaparte museum in Rome, and while museum officials said the painting’s glass screen protected it from any damages, Italy’s Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano condemned it, saying culture shouldn’t be “used as a megaphone for other forms of protest.”
Activists have argued the devastating effects scientists predict climate change will have outweighs the damage a priceless painting might incur in the protests. Phoebe Plummer, one of the activists who threw soup on Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” asked in a statement, “is art worth more than life? More than food? More than justice?” adding “we will look back and mourn all we have lost unless we act immediately.” For years, scientists have warned unchecked climate change caused by increased fossil fuel emissions will have a catastrophic effect on the planet. Last month, a U.N. report warned that under current conditions the world’s temperature will increase as much as 2.9 degrees Celsius by the end of the century—almost double the targeted 1.5 degree rise in the Paris Climate Agreement. “Everything that we would have the right to see in our present and our future is being obscured by a real and imminent catastrophe, just as this pea puree has covered,” activists with Last Generation said.
Museum officials and art world experts have questioned how targeting artwork held in public museums will help combat climate change. Last week, the International Council of Museums released a statement condemning the attacks. The museum group said the protestors “severely underestimate the fragility” of the artwork they’re targeting. High-profile museum leaders that signed the letter include the Louvre’s director Laurence des Cars, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Max Hollein, the Guggenheim’s Richard Armstrong and the British Museum’s Hartwig Fischer.
By Brian Bushard and Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff