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Art vandalism 2022: Climate change activism against masterpiece artwork justified?

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Some of the most notorious art attacks on masterpieces involved rather juvenile acts by protesters of throwing food at and gluing themselves to the paintings.

Climate Activists have attacked several paintings by throwing food at them as well as gluing themselves to and around the paintings, proceeding to make speeches about their disapproval towards such art as it opposes their cause of ensuring that the government takes action to halt the exploitation of fossil fuels.

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer

The most recent attack occurred on October 27, 2022, when a group member of Just Stop Oil glued his head to Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring whilst his partner poured what appears to be tomato sauce over his head.

Girl With a Pearl Earring stood in the Mauritius Museum in The Hague allegedly worth over $30 million or otherwise termed as priceless. It was attacked on a Thursday by two protesters who clearly have no support from the onlookers. In the video, the onlookers observably shout “shame on you,” “stupid,” and “obscene” whilst one of the protesters continues to question how the onlookers feel about the “planet being destroyed.” The protesters’ attempts to raise awareness about the devastating effects of climate change are not met with any consideration.

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While one of the protesters continues with his speech, he proclaims that the painting is protected by glass, however, the onlookers’ disgust ceased to subside as they continue to shout “shut up” at the protester.

Art Attacks - Vermeer Painting, Man Glues Head To Painting

Following this, three of the Just Stop Oil group members were arrested on charges of “violence against public property,” as stated by the police on Thursday afternoon. According to an article in The Washington Post, this statement was released by the museum in response to this atrocious vandalism,

Art is defenseless, and the Mauritshuis firmly rejects attempts to damage it for any purpose whatsoever.

The Mauritshuis Meusum, The Washington Post

Les Meules by Claude Monet

The Attack on Monet’s Les Meules took place on October 23rd, 2022 as protesters flung mashed potatoes at the painting, who then park themselves in front of it claiming that “we are in a climate catastrophe.”

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Credits: Nbc News

Les Meules was displayed at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam and was sold for $111 million at an auction in 2019. It was attacked on a Sunday by two activists who doused the painting in mashed potatoes with outrage resulting from the bystanders according to the video. The activists also glued themselves right beneath the painting where the German women proceeded to make a speech asserting that it takes “mashed potatoes” and “tomato soup” (referring to the previous attack on Van Gough’s painting) in order to get everyone’s attention and further claims that “we won’t we able to feed our families in 2050.”

The Barberini Museum declared that the activists were affiliated with the group Last Generation which stood up for climate change issues. The woman was identified by Last generation as Mirjam Herrmann while the man was identified as Benjamin but the group ceased to provide a surname and the two subjects were taken to prison the same day. The Museum further addressed that the painting was enclosed in a glass frame, and thus suffered no damage. The painting was to be redisplayed by Wednesday, the Museum added.

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

The attack on Van Gogh’s Sunflowers occurred on October 14, 2022, where two climate activists, members of Just Stop Oil, threw tomato sauce at the painting, and then proceeded to glue their hands to the wall behind them, much like Last Generation’s attack on Les Meules.

Sunflowers stood in the National Gallery museum in London and has an estimated value of £72.5 million. It was attacked on a Friday when two activists flung tins of tomato sauce all over the painting resulting in screams and shouts by the disapproving bystanders who immediately yell for security. The two activists park themselves right next to the painting, where the woman begins her speech with, “what is worth more? Art or life?”

Art Attacks - Activists Throw Mashed Potatoes And Glue Themselves To Masterpieces

The museum staff quickly cleared the room, and since then the museum has stated that that the painting was not harmed whilst the frame suffered some damage. The Metropolitan Police confirmed that those involved were arrested on grounds of “criminal damage and aggravated trespass.”

Although the activists advocate for a notable cause of protecting the planet from the detrimental effects of climate change, the theatrics involved with intentionally damaging priceless works has not been well received by others. Claire Armitstead, in The Guardian, expresses her utter dismay at the appalling situation terming it as a cliche:

But cliche is not a good look for activists intent on landing an urgent message, and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking, on hearing the news, not “how shocking”, but “here we go again”. Theatre it may be, but it all looks a bit predictable, a little tame.

Claire Armitstead, The Guardian

Despite the arrests and disapproving reactions of the crowds, the activists persist and create a trail of attacks on various priceless works of art, especially during this month of October. It seems that the vandalism will not subside any time soon and perhaps what the activists do accomplish is increased security at the entrance and within museums.

Reeva Faisal

First-Year Communications student at UC San Diego.

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