Stop ‘counterproductive’ attacks on famous paintings, says art world
October 30, 2022 | 10:46
Art world professionals have called recent attacks on famous paintings by climate protesters “counterproductive” and dangerous acts of vandalism.
While some of the major French and British museums interviewed by AFP, including the Louvre, the National Gallery and the Tate in London, are keeping a low profile on the issue, others are calling for stronger protective measures against such acts.
“Art is defenseless and we strongly condemn any attempt to damage it for any reason,” the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague said in a statement.
It was at the Mauritshuis that Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ came under fire from climate activists this week.
Two activists stuck to the painting and the adjoining wall, while another threw a thick red substance, but the artwork was behind glass and in good condition, and was released for public view on Friday.
Images on social media showed the activists wearing “Just Stop Oil” t-shirts.
“How do you feel?” one of them asked. “This painting is protected by glass but… our children’s future is not protected.”
The attack came after environmental activists doused tomato soup on Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh’s ‘sunflowers’ at the National Gallery in London, and threw mashed potatoes on a painting by Claude Monet in the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany.
Bernard Blistene, honorary president of the Center d’art moderne Pompidou in Paris, said all museum managers have been taking precautions against vandalism for a very long time.
“Should we take more? Without a doubt,” he said.
Ortrud Westheider, director of the Barberini Museum, said the recent attacks showed that “international security standards for the protection of works of art in the event of attacks by activists are not sufficient”.
Eco-activists from the group Last Generation threw mashed potatoes on Monet’s “Les Meules” at the museum.
The group then posted a video on social media, writing: “If it takes a painting – with #MashedPotatoes or #TomatoSoup thrown on it – for society to remember that the course of fossil fuels is killing us all: then we give # Mashed potatoes on a board!”
The museum said the painting was protected by glass and suffered no damage.
In a similar stunt on October 14, two environmental protesters hit van Gogh’s world-famous work with tomato soup in London. The gallery said protesters caused “minor damage” to the frame but the painting was “unharmed”.
Remigiusz Plath, security expert for the German museum association DMB and the Hasso Plattner Foundation, said the series of art attacks were “clearly some sort of escalation process”.
“There are different ways to react and of course all museums have to think about extensive security measures – measures that were previously very unusual for museums in Germany and Europe, which were perhaps only known to United States,” he said.
These measures could include a complete ban on bags and jackets as well as security searches.
“The environmental catastrophe and the climate crisis are of course also of concern to us… But we have absolutely zero tolerance for vandalism,” he added.
The Prado Museum in the Spanish capital said it was “on high alert”.
At the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid, conservation expert Jorge Garcia Gomez-Tejedo told Spanish media this week only the most vulnerable works are displayed behind bulletproof glass.
Adam Weinberg, of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, questioned the activists’ approach.
“These are people who put themselves on stage to draw attention to something, but you have to ask yourself, does that really change anything?” he said during a Wednesday chat in Qatar, according to ARTNews.
Tristram Hunt, of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, expressed concern about the “nihilistic language around protests that there is no place for art in times of crisis”.
“I disagree,” he said at the same event.
French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak called on “all national museums to be extra vigilant”.
“How… can defending the climate lead to wanting to destroy a work of art? It’s absolutely absurd,” she told the daily Le Parisien.
In May, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’ had a custard pie thrown at it at the Louvre Museum in Paris, but the artwork’s thick bulletproof casing meant it couldn’t be hurt.
His attacker said he targeted artists who didn’t focus enough on “the planet”.
For Didier Rykner, founder of the French online magazine La Tribune de l’art, these acts of protest are “counterproductive” and “the more visibility we give them, the more they will start again”.
But “as they become commonplace, these acts undoubtedly lose their force”, he argued.