It has long since ceased to be playful, but it certainly has an effect: plastering a building, a piece of art or a car to draw attention to what you find important. In recent weeks, we’ve seen climate activists loot expensive paintings with food to draw attention to their cause. The umbrella organization Museumsforeningen calls the actions unacceptable in conversation with NU.nl.By Hasna Elbaamranic
Earlier this month, climate activists threw tomato soup over a painting by Vincent van Gogh at the National Gallery in London. A week later, in the German city of Potsdam, a work of art by Claude Monet worth almost 100 million euros was defaced with mashed potatoes. Even then, climate activists were responsible for the action.
There was no damage to the precious paintings. In both cases, the precious works of art hung behind glass. They are now on display at the museum.
On Monday, it was hit again: the wax figure of King Charles in Madame Tussauds London was the target of two activists. They aimed a cake at the British monarch’s fake face. The extent of the damage is not yet known, but part of the museum was temporarily closed.
“It can be a matter of cleaning the image, washing hair and clothes,” says marketing manager Annemiek Dolfin of Madame Tussauds Amsterdam. In that case, the staff at the London Museum would be ready in no time. But it can also become much more complicated. “If the wax is damaged, an image must be discolored and rebuilt.”
The actions of activists are wrong
Director Olaf Zimmermann of the German Cultural Council previously told the AP that the actions are unwise. “The risk of damage is extremely high. While the artworks are part of our cultural heritage and should be protected, just like the climate.”
The association of museums, with more than 450 members, tells NU.nl to condemn the actions of the activists. “Climate and a sustainable future is an urgent theme for museums and the museum association. The museums do a lot to improve sustainability and also hold exhibitions about climate change. In my opinion, museums and climate activists are on the same page,” says director Vera Carasso from the Museum Association.
“At the same time, we speak out against actions that deface works of art. Our main task is precisely to preserve those works, therefore we find it unacceptable. We understand that it is meant to be an action that hurts, but so directly that towards the one you are going to reach.”
No need to panic yet
This is not the first time such actions have taken place: this summer, activists stuck to various works. This also included works by Picasso and Botticelli.
A spokesman for the Uffizi gallery in Florence, where Botticelli’s painting hangs, said Art newspaper that it took twenty minutes to remove adhesive residue from the glass around the painting. “Without the glass protection, the work would have been badly damaged.”
The Amsterdam branch of Madame Tussauds wax museum has the necessary experience with damage to the statues. “We receive approximately 800,000 visitors each year, and so you often have to deal with damage,” says Dolfin. “Damage can be done unconsciously, for example by walking past a statue with a bag. But we also sometimes have to deal with vandalism.”
The British activist group Just Stop Oil – which is responsible for the processing of the Van Gogh painting and the wax figure of King Charles – has announced that it will continue to campaign until the government stops oil and gas drilling. In a statement, the activists explain that they choose museums as the location for their protests because they “love history and culture too much to just watch it crumble (due to climate change, ed.)”. The activists say they were aware of the glass protection that museums use and did not intend to damage the artworks.
The climate activists’ actions are no reason for Madame Tussauds in the Netherlands to increase security measures. “Our museum is taking all necessary measures to protect our images and our public.”