On a recent Wednesday morning, two climate change activists went straight to a beautiful Monet painting on display at Sweden’s National Gallery. They wanted to convey the urgency of environmental crises – pollution, global warming and other man-made disasters – that could make the artist’s gorgeous gardens at Giverny a distant memory. So the young protesters followed what was going on. familiar playbook: Stick your hands on the protective glass of the work and apply red paint.
Two environmental activists at the National Gallery in Washington in April splattered paint In a case surrounding Degas’ 19th-century sculpture “Little Dancer at Fourteen,” he paints a pine tree and a frowning face on a plinth in red and black paint, symbolizing blood and oil.
Similar scenes have been played out at dozens of museums in recent years. YearCultural actors are in crisis and at a loss as to how to prevent climate change activists from targeting sensitive works of art. Just last weekend, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan was targeted for the second time. More than 40 activists took over the gallery and silently held placards declaring “No Art on a Dead Planet”. Meanwhile, cultural institutions that were attacked said the costs of security, preservation and insurance have increased.
In some cases, activists have filed lawsuits seeking damages. In February, Vienna’s prosecutor’s office dropped charges against demonstrators who splashed water on a 1915 car. klimt painting Protesters protested with black liquid at the Leopold Museum after agreeing to pay about $2,200 in damages for the cost of handling art, cleaning and repairing gallery walls.
But museum director Hans Peter Whiplinger told The New York Times that Leopold continues to feel the economic fallout from the November 2022 climate change protests. The museum would have to add two staff members at the entrance, which would cost the enhanced operations about $32,800, plus the addition of glass protection would be about $11,000. Whiplinger also said insurance premiums for key paintings that draw crowds have “raised significantly.”
Cultural institutions are as active as their budgets allow. Additional security has been added to certain exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the current blockbuster “Van Gogh’s Cypresses.” Lisa Pirosi, director of conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, said in an interview that all works of art, including more than 40 paintings and prints, are placed inside protective glass out of concern for climate change activists. . (Last year, protesters threw the soup At a Van Gogh painting in the National Gallery, London. )
“I didn’t want to deal with attacks, so I used very high-end plexiglass,” she explained. “But the glass is there to keep people from touching the work, not to keep liquids from dripping.”
Restoring the painting to its former glory after an attack can take hours of careful preservation work, and expensive glass does not completely prevent liquids from penetrating through protective barriers.
“We knew something like this could happen,” said Per Hedström, interim director of the Swedish National Museum. “We started making plans last fall.”
Hedström said he was still calculating the amount of damages the government could claim in prosecuting activists belonging to the environmental group Aterstel Watmarker (Wetland Restoration).
The number of workers required to clean a painting like Monet is “actually very high,” Hedstrom said. “There were about 10 or 15 people working there for a few days: restorers, press officers, curators.”
But national museums like him have limited options to prevent attacks. “The extreme result would be the closure of the museum,” Hedström said, although he conceded that it was unrealistic because the collection belongs to Swedish citizens. “Activists are using the principle of open society as a vulnerability.”
In what appears to be a tipping point for the United States, prosecutors have filed serious federal charges against protesters who threatened the safety of art at the federal National Gallery in Washington. Last month, Joanna Smith and Tim Martin, both 53, smeared paint on the case surrounding the fragile beeswax sculpture “Little Dancer” in April, citing conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States and a National Gallery exhibit. He was charged with damaging property. Each charge carries a maximum statutory sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Climate change activists criticized the ruling as “unfairly harsh”. “It wasn’t a call to vandalize the museum,” Smith said in a phone interview, adding that he believed the accusation would stifle free speech. “It was a call to ponder and think about what people value on the planet and what they can do to protect them.”
Kaywin Feldman, director of the National Gallery, said he appreciated the efforts the authorities made to “bring these serious charges.”
After the raid, nearly 20 employees worked to clean the galleries, inspect the sculptures, and repair the exhibits, which Feldman said was worth about $2,400 in damage. Degas’ work was removed from the gallery for a total of 13 days. Feldman said restorers were more concerned about the violent vibrations caused by the commotion than paint splatter. The sculpture’s delicate wax body can crack from such movement, so museums rarely move or loan the work. The last time the sculpture was moved was for an exhibition in 2020.
“People keep asking me: What does Degas’ ‘Little Dancer’ have to do with climate change?” “The museum has always strived to provide the best possible access to original works of art, and that is part of its founding ethos. bothers us all.”