Climate protesters endanger ‘irreplaceable’ art, say global museums


LONDON — From Claude Monet to Andy Warhol, the masterpieces of several of the world’s greatest artists have come under attack this year by protesters seeking to draw global attention to the climate change emergency. Now, the art galleries are backing down.

in a joint statement This week, representatives from nearly 100 galleries around the world, including the Guggenheim museum in New York, the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris, warned that such climate protests are putting priceless works of art at risk. .

“In recent weeks, there have been several attacks against works of art in international museum collections. The activists responsible for them severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” they said.

The group of 92 representatives from the International Council of Museums said museum directors were increasingly “frustrated” and “deeply shocked” by the danger of art.

“Museums are places where people from a wide variety of backgrounds can engage in dialogue and thus enable social discourse,” the statement added. “We will continue to advocate for direct access to our cultural heritage. And we will keep the museum as a free space for social communication.”

The gallery protests so far have not caused any permanent damage to the iconic pieces, which are mostly encased in protective glass, though some museums have reported minor damage.

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Protests have dotted the world in recent months.

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In Australia, climate protesters scrawled blue graffiti on Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can art in Canberra. The climate action group Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies wrote on Twitter, “The art was not harmed” and urged the Australian government to reduce its carbon emissions.

“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer, a seventeenth-century masterpiece, was managed in the Netherlands last month, but is now back on display.

In Italy, climate protesters lashed out at Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera” at the Uffizi museum in Florence, while in Germany, protesters from the group Last Generation doused Monet’s “Les Meules” with mashed potatoes while criticizing the government fossil fuel extraction.

The groups have presented similar arguments to justify their actions. The Uffizi protesters, for example, said that “if the climate collapses, the entire civilization as we know it collapses. There will be no more tourism, no museums, no art.”

In response to this week’s coordinated statement from the museums, a spokesperson for the UK-based climate action group Just Stop Oil told The Washington Post on Friday that “the art and public gallery is a contested place.” , does not exist and cannot exist outside of the broader debate and arguments taking place in society. The spokesman added: “Doing away with new oil and gas is a demand that must be made both inside and outside the gallery.”

Just Stop Oil protesters made global headlines last month when they dumped tomato soup on Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh at the National Gallery in London, but did not damage the 19th-century painting, worth an estimated $84.2 million, which was encased in protective glass.

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More activists are sticking to art. His tactics are not new.

The high-profile stunts align with other climate protests in recent years that have sought interrupt everyday life in increasingly unexpected ways.

Dana Fisher, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who studies protest movements, formerly saying The Post that such “tactical innovation” and new strategies gain media attention but don’t always “work to change hearts and minds.”

Some in the public have acclaimed protesters as “heroes” and said the galleries were “missing the point” by not supporting them. Others, however, have called for greater security in museums and considered acts of “vandalism”.

A separate body, the US-based Association of Art Museum Directors, also last week issued a statement in response to climate activists’ “attacks” on works of art, stating that the incidents “cannot be justified” regardless of motivation. “Such protests are misguided and the end does not justify the means,” the organization said.

The rare joint action by the museums comes as world leaders, including President Biden, meet in Egypt for the annual United Nations climate change summit. known as COP27to discuss solutions to the ongoing climate emergency.

When Activists Attacked Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers,’ They Asserted Their Power

Biden asked for more than $11 billion to help developing countries adapt to the devastating effects of climate change and build greener economies in his $5.8 trillion budget plan released in March, but it is not clear whether Congress will deliver close to that amount.

Meanwhile, on Friday, a major study warned that nations are likely to burn through their remaining carbon budget. in the next nine years if they don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, making it almost impossible for nations to meet the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

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Shannon Osaka contributed to this report.