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Climate activists after having thrown black paint in a Klimt’s painting

After a pandemic that had a huge impact on society and almost destroyed powerful economies, we had Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th of February as the major, still ongoing affair, deaths of many influential people and activists attacking works of art. Over the past year, climate activists attacked famous artworks on galleries and museums around the world. It was their attempt to attract media attention and raise awareness about the climate crisis. The incidents include activists from ‘Just Stop Oil’, throwing tomato soup over Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ at the National Gallery of London. In Germany, environmentalists threw mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet painting in Potsdam museum. Moreover, there was a splashing pea soup incident on a Van Gogh painting in Rome. Furthermore, other incidents took place in Melbourne and Canberra.

As a result, the directors of around 100 museums and galleries took measures to protect their exhibits. In a joint statement, they wrote that the activists who are responsible for the attacks, “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which we must preserve as part of our world heritage”. Some of the high-profile institutions which signed the statement include, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim Museum in New York, the National Gallery in London and others.

During the attack on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the protesters shouted “What is worth more? Art or life? Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice?” The group which attacked the Monet painting in Germany shouted the same questions.

Is it an acceptable act to attack art to make a political statement, or to draw attention regarding a global issue? For sure, climate change is a very hot topic and not a small issue. But art is irreplaceable and part of our culture. Art is part of history, and we should value and appreciate it. It is also fragile, as mentioned on the joint statement of the galleries. Many times in the past, activists have had a major role in shaping history. However, we have never seen groups of people wanting to make things better by attacking iconic artworks.

The good news is that none of the works had unfixable damages, as most of them were covered by glass. The activists seem to attack famous works not to damage them, but to draw media attention. However, the organization backing the Just Stop Oil protests have stated that more similar protests are coming.

“More protests are coming. This is a rapidly growing movement and the next weeks will be, I hope, the most intense period of climate action to date” said Margaret Klein Salamon, executive director or the Climate Emergency Fund. So, should we be worried that eventually some important pieces of art will be damaged, or hope that it wont go that way?

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