Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Art of Getting Attention

What do “The Extinction Rebellion”, “The Last Generation” and “New Seasons of Actions” have to do with each other? They are all part of an international movement to address climate change, and involve demonstrators going into museums and throwing food stuffs at famous paintings and gluing their hands or heads to pictures, frames or adjacent walls. Here two protestors glued a head and a hand to “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” by Vermeer at the Mauritshuis in the Hague, The Netherlands.

The first time I read about the climate activists was the report where they threw tomato soup at a van Gogh painting of Sunflowers in the National Gallery in London. I was upset. But then when I learned the picture was glazed (protective glass in front), I had another thought. What a wonderful way to bring attention to a worldwide problem. Later I found that this was not a singular action, but it has become a movement all over Europe, not just in the Hague and London but in France one smeared cake on the Mona Lisa; in Germany they threw mashed potatoes (instant or homemade is anybody’s guess!) at Claude Monet’s “Moules”; in Italy they chose pea soup to throw at van Gogh’s “The Sower”; in Spain, they glued their hands to Goya’s Majas, and in Italy to Botticelli’s “Pimavera”… and who knows where else, oh yes, in Melbourne Australia two members of the Extinction Rebellion glued their hands to Picasso’s “Massacre in Korea”.

They have not just chosen art museums for protests but also a Dinosaur Exhibition in Berlin and Madame Tussauds in London where they smeared chocolate cake on the face of King Charles III. Sorry but, I do not take Madame Tussauds too seriously, I find that one amusing. Shame on me!

I read various articles about the repercussions of these acts. In the case of Melbourne, the perpetrators were arrested and released when it was found the painting was undamaged. Barron’s reported that a Dutch court sentenced two climate activists to two months in jail, one of them suspended, for targeting Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring". But possibly in the best revenge of all, activists glued themselves to the floor of the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany and rather than call the police, the staff closed-up the museum for the night and left them there, allegedly unable to use the bathroom. The protest lasted for two nights and then the authorities arrested them.

Here are a couple of the statements from these activists while they were in the museums. "We are in a climate catastrophe, and all you are afraid of is tomato soup or mashed potatoes on a painting," and "I'm afraid because the science tells us that we won't be able to feed our families in 2050 ... This painting is not going to be worth anything if we have to fight over food.” Here is a brief video from Twitter of the German protest at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam Germany regarding the mashed potatoes thrown at a Monet:

So far protesters have chosen works of art with protective glazing for their attacks and damage has been mainly to frames. Unfortunately, these sorts of actions can lead to extremes with people who just wish to get personal attention and then great paintings may get damaged. To invert what the climate activists have said, if this trend continues and we do survive past 2050, we may have lost some of our great treasures in the process.

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