“How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being inherently destroyed before your eyes? Do you feel outraged? Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?” Spoken by a Just Stop Oil activist moments after pouring tomato sauce on his colleagues super glued to Vermeer’s revered painting, Girl With The Pearl Earring. Environmental activists around the world have recently targeted masterpieces by Klimt, Botticelli, da Vinci, van Gogh, Goya, Monet, Carr, Constable, Warhol and Charles Ray to raise awareness about global warming. Soup poured on two of van Gogh’s paintings and mashed potatoes tossed onto a Monet painting are a few of the targeted incidents that have occurred. Just Stop Oil is self described as a coalition working together to demand the government immediately stop all future licensing for the exploration, development, and production of fossil fuels.
Although it is true that the people responsible for these protests are ultimately fighting for a fragile and irreplaceable entity in need of preservation, something nearly all of us can understand and appreciate. But I must ask why then do they target irreplaceable works of art that need preservation for our cultural heritage? It is even more disturbing that they certainly must know and disregard this fact in order to make an impact, ironically by performing an act that looks like art itself.
These protesters aim to spark awareness and provoke a universal understanding that the planet needs to be protected and preserved. Yet, they resort to doing so by targeting something that requires the same level of care. This is akin to bringing suit against a charitable foundation helping others for co-opting your idea of helping others. It is senseless.
As Robinson Meyer discusses in his Atlantic article “The Climate Art Vandals Are Embarrassing,” politics are a matter of appearances, and this food versus art political endeavor appears awkward and slightly removed from its overall purpose. Wasting food while shouting out that people are starving is diametrically opposed to the point of the act. The performance of damaging something culturally cherished is inciting anger not sympathy for the cause. The museums that house these treasures struggle financially and are often in debt. Insurance and security costs will undoubtedly increase for museums to ensure the safety and preservation of their collections. The art being targeted is for public consumption not ultra wealthy collectors who insure their collections, keeping their paintings in their homes or sadly in the freeport. It is the public and the museums who will be hurt and who will ultimately be fighting against a force that is, in the grand scheme of things, fighting for the exact same cause.
These protesters are shaping areas that nurse collective understanding and protect our heritage into spaces that feel unsafe. People who advocate for the climate and people who frequent or support art museums are typically on the same team, working to preserve intergenerational objects for the public. I believe strongly in fighting for our planet against climate change but I think it’s time they reassess their targets and seek other ways to speak out for the climate in order to attract the ears of the people they want to listen to them. These climate activists must consider their actions as they have missed the mark in my and many others’ opinions.
Guest Editor – Tatiana Cooper