What did Van Gogh do wrong? Why climate activists smear art

Climate activists often hold annoying protests to draw attention to the climate problems. When the Formula 1 race at Silverstone was briefly stopped earlier this year due to an accident, activists took to the track.

But lately, these activist groups have been in the news the most, as museums and art seem to have become the new targets, as seen in these photos:

Why specifically art? We asked spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, Chris Julien. This activist movement is known for disruptive protests where activists blocked roads, stuck to streets and occupied business premises. They were not involved in smearing art, but they understand these actions.

Raise awareness of climate problems

Spokesman Julien: “You can associate the landscapes in paintings with all the beautiful places we still have in our world. But they are becoming more and more polluted. Precisely because people are concerned about the painting being tarnished, we want them to think more about the landscapes in it. So you care about the artworks, you spend a lot of money on them, but you also care about the real landscapes?”

Art is used to discuss issues surrounding climate problems, says Julien. “You feel concern for the artworks. But do you also feel it for the climate? We want people to talk about it and that more will be done for the climate.”

Response from the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum

RTL Nieuws has asked both the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum for an answer. The spokesman for the Van Gogh Museum said in a statement:

“The Van Gogh Museum is closely following all developments that may affect the museum. We have of course also heard the news of the incident. We are taking measures to guarantee the safety of the art and the visitor. We do not make any statements regarding what measures are in question .”

The spokesperson for the Rijksmuseum states that no statements are ever made about matters related to the safety of visitors and employees.

Violent protests often get a lot of attention. But doesn’t that distract from the message? Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, professor of social change and conflict at the Free University of Amsterdam, sees a difference between the actions of climate activists and other protesters.

Actions can become more extreme

“When it comes to extreme actions, you usually see that only the smear itself is discussed. Now it’s different. Because the protesters stuck together, they still had time to get their message across.”

This was seen, for example, at the museum in London, where two activists glued their hands to the wall after they had thrown soup over Van Gogh’s sunflowers. “What is worth more? Art or life? Are you more concerned about protecting a painting than protecting our planet?”, one of the activists then shouted.

According to Van Stekelenburg, a consequence of these actions may be that others will take over and perhaps become more extreme. “These types of actions can be contagious, where other activists go ahead and destroy something.”

A little attention with previous actions

But according to Julien of Extinction Rebellion, it’s not meant to glorify violence or destruction among the public. The activists wanted to know that the paintings are behind glass. “They know there is no harm and there is no violence. It has to be that way. Previous demonstrations have not led to the desired result and have not received media attention.”

Yesterday, there was another action by the British activist group Just Stop Oil, where two supporters insulted a wax figure of King Charles III in Madame Tussauds with a chocolate cake:

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