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Why The Hell Are Climate Activists Targeting Art Treasures?

Just a few months ago, two climate activists scrawled over Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. This was not an isolated incident, but part of a growing trend that has emerged among climate activists in recent months–targeting famous artworks in museums and galleries around the world. These activists have thrown tomato soup, and mashed potatoes, and even glued themselves to paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, and other masters. They claim that their actions are meant to draw attention to the burning of fossil fuels and the environmental crisis worldwide.

But what are they really achieving by endangering these irreplaceable artworks?

Two protesters threw soup at Vincent Van Gogh’s famous 1888 work Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London. They caused no damage to the glass-covered painting. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Guardian

The attacks have sparked outrage and condemnation from the art community, as well as the general public. Directors of several art institutions have issued statements, saying that they have been "deeply shaken" by the attacks and that the activists "severely underestimate" the fragility of the artworks. Some have also defended the role of museums as places of dialogue and social discourse, and vowed to preserve the cultural heritage for future generations.

The activists, however, seem to have little regard for the artistic value or historical significance of the works they target. They argue that art is not worth more than life, and that the museums are complicit in the climate crisis by accepting donations from fossil fuel companies or displaying artworks that glorify oil and gas industries. Although they claim their actions are nonviolent and symbolic due to their use organic or biodegradable materials that can be easily cleaned, it begs the question; are these effective and ethical ways to protest? Or are they counterproductive and harmful ways to alienate potential allies and supporters?

"Museums are not the enemy of the climate movement, but potential allies. The institutions have a social responsibility to engage with the public on relevant topics, and many of them have taken steps to address the environmental impact of their operations and collections. The actions of the activists are not harmless or symbolic, but harmful and counterproductive, hence the materials they use may not damage the artworks permanently, but they still pose a risk of contamination or deterioration." – Local Art Lover

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Why The Hell Are Climate Activists Targeting Art Treasures?

June 17, 2023

Fredrick Favour

2 min read