LONG READ – Yesterday, two people from ‘Futura Vegetal’ stuck to the lists around La Maja Vestida (1800 – 1807) and La Maja Desnuda (1797 – 1800) by Francisco Goya (source: El Pais). It was the twenty-fifth museum climate action since the Mona Lisa got a cake in the face in May. A summary of the actions (with several videos) at the bottom of this article. Plus more in-depth literature.
The action of Ultima Generazione, Just Stop Oil, Letzte Generation and Extinction Rebellion (Australia and Netherlands) and now Futura Vegetal, is intended to cause a shock. Given the amount and nature of the uproar in mainstream and social media, this mission has been accomplished.
No connection between climate crisis and museums?
But Vera Carasso, director of the Museums Association, states that “there is no direct connection between the climate crisis and the museums” (in this article at NOS). She reacted to the action in the Mauritshuis, forgetting that Shell had sponsored the museum for six years until 2018. The actions of climate activists contributed to the Mauritshuis and the Van Gogh Museum saying goodbye to Shell as a sponsor in 2018.
Mrs Carasso also forgets that a small museum has a significant carbon footprint. If nothing else to create the conditions in which the art is well preserved. Then you have to keep an eye out for new trends in art, as experienced by the British Museum, for example.
The British Museum has seen a significant increase in its carbon footprint since it started selling NFTs (digital versions of pieces from its collection). Last year, the museum calculated that it had a total emission of 5,861 tonnes. Enough to run an average American household for 57 years (historian Bendor Grosvenor, in Art History News, May 9, 2022 and in The Art Newspaper, November 4).
Enough is more than enough
The activists do not mention any of this in the last 25 actions. This is precisely their point: the world has more than enough information, so why delay any longer with effective climate action? Now they move on to more shocking actions, because previous, different actions apparently have not helped enough. Because it is not the first time that museums are the subject of climate action.
The Art Not Oil Coalition has been promoting oil sponsorship deals in museums since 2004 by staging creative protests at the National Portrait Gallery in London on the opening nights of the BP Portrait Award from 2004 onwards. In 2006, the group took action at the Shell-sponsored Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum (source: Recto Verso, 3 July 2015).
Since 2012, the group has produced ‘BP or not to BP?’ activist theater as a protest against the sponsorship of major British museums by the oil company BP (British Petroleum). In 2015 they gave 15 performances at museums sponsored by BP and Shell. Then it looked like this:
This year (23 April) the group occupied four rooms at the British Museum after hours when the museum was still sponsored by BP.
Under the name Fossil Free Culture, a group of artists and scientists held a performance at the Van Gogh Museum in 2016. The protest was directed at the partnership between the museum and Shell.
In 2018, the same group held several actions at the Van Gogh Museum (Dirty Hands and Stop the Fossil Century Now) until a party could finally be held because the museum cut ties with Shell. The group further focused on Groninger Museum, Drents Museum, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Rijksmuseum Boerhaave and NEMO Science Museum.
In 2020, a short campaign was held for the Techniekmuseum Oyfo (Hengelo) by Extinction Rebellion in protest against the museum’s collaboration with Shell.
The museum is not the right place?
All well and good, say critics, but protest against the fossil fuel industry itself. This is exactly the point the activists have been making in recent weeks. There have been many such actions.
In addition, no one is surprised when companies, public buildings and shopping centers are selected for the dissemination of social messages. It would be strange if museums were then in ‘protective isolation’.
It is also noteworthy that an action in the Guggenheim Museum for the protest movement in Iran can count on applause, and the climate actions receive condemnation.
The pressure that the activists put on the museums has helped. We have already mentioned the Mauritshuis and the Van Gogh Museum, which ended their sponsorship of Shell in 2018.
From 1 January 2021, the Rijksmuseum Boerhaave also stopped using Shell. In doing so, the museum followed other Dutch cultural institutions that quickly renounced Shell: Concertgebouw, Museon and NEMO.
The British National Portrait Gallery will cut ties with BP by the end of this year. Three years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Galleries Scotland also ended their partnership with BP (Business AM, 23 Feb 2022).
The biggest success, of course, would be if the fossil fuel industry and governments really got going. Art lovers want it too, right? Because, for example, the Gronings Museum has been flooded before (Trouw, 1998). It threatened to happen again in 2012 and in February this year. If we don’t listen to the activists, there won’t be a museum in X years.
All actions in a row
29 May Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (1503) covered with cake in the Louvre (source: Artnews), first source: El Pais, with video; at 16 sec. is the pie thrower talking).
29 June At the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, two people from Just Stop Oil glued their hands to the frame of Horatio McCulloch’s painting My Heart’s in the Highlands (1860) (video – Just Stop Oil).
30 June At the Courtauld Gallery (London) two activists cling to the list of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Peach Trees in Blossom’ -1889 (film)
1 July Just Stop Oil members attached to Thomson’s Aeolian Harp (1809) by JMW Turner at Manchester Art Gallery (video)
July 4 Over The Haywain (1821) by British painter John Constable, an adapted version of the painting was inserted. On the modified version, the river has been replaced by a paved road, and the factory chimneys and an airplane have been added. (video).
July 5 In the Royal Academy (London), five people stuck to the list of the Last Supper (1520) by Leonardo Da Vinci’s assistant Giampietrino. (video)
July 19 In the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, a man glued himself to the safety glass of the painting Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele (1436) by Jan van Eyck (source: VRT.be)
July 22 In the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italian climate activists have glued to a glass wall around the painting La Primavera (1480) by Sandro Botticelli. (video)
July 30 At the Museo del Novecento in Milan, people clung to the pedestal under the sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) by Umberto Boccioni (source: The Art Newspaper)
August 18 Two people glued to the sculpture Laocoön and his sons (c. 1059) in the Vatican Museum (source: Ultima Generazione)
20 August Extinction Rebellion presents a performance depicting the ‘greenwashing’ of museums. They want Drents Museum to no longer be sponsored by NAM (source: RTV Drenthe, with video).
August 21 Not with glue but with chains, members of the Italian Ultima Generazione chained themselves to a railing in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua under Giotto’s frescoes (source: The Art Newspaper)
August 23 members of the ‘Letzte Generation’ attached to Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1513) in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden (source: RTL News)
August 24 In the Städel Museum in Frankfurt (Main) two people posed on the frame of the painting Landscape during a Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe (1651) by Nicolas Poussin (source: Letzte Generation)
August 25 In the Gemäldegalerie Berlin, members of the Letzte Generation were tied to Rust on the Flight into Egypt (1504) by Lucas Cranach the Elder (source: rbb24)
26 August In the Alte Pinakothek (Munich) two people linked themselves here as well, this time to the painting The Massacre of the Innocents (1638) by Peter Paul Rubens (source: Berliner Zeitung)
9 October Two activists cling to the glass from the 1951 massacre in Korea by Pablo Picasso in Melbourne Museum Victoria (video)
14 October In the National Gallery in London, Vincent van Gogh’s Vase of Sunflowers (1888) was doused with tomato soup. Two people clung to the wall. (video)
23 October Members of the ‘Letzte generation’ throw mashed potatoes at Les meules (The harvest stacks -1890) by Claude Monet in the Museum Barberini in Potsdam (video).
27 October In the Mauritshuis, someone glued his head to The Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by Johannes Vermeer (source: NOS)
27 October In the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, a Just Stop Oil campaign was nipped in the bud by museum staff. Someone wanted to throw soup at Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Self-Portrait in Saint Remy’ (1889). When she saw that guards were watching her, she went to a painting by Paul Gaugain, but she was also caught there and taken out of the museum (source: Le Parisien).
30 October In the Natural History Museum Berlin, two members of the ‘Letzte Genration’ glued themselves to a dinosaur skeleton (source: rbb24).
October 30 In the Alten Nationalgalerie in Berlin, someone threw artificial blood at the painting ‘Clown’ (1886) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and stuck to the wall next to the painting (source: rbb24).
November 4 Three members of the Ultima Generazione throw some vegetable soup on Vincent vVan Gogh’s ‘The Sower’ (1888) and glue themselves to the wall (video)
November 5 In the Prado Museum (Madrid), two people from Futura Vegetal glued themselves to the frame around La Maja Vestida (1800 – 1807) and La Maja Desnuda (1797 – 1800) by Francisco Goya (source: El Pais)
Of course, you’ll want to know more to make up your mind. Therefore extra in-depth literature here:
Interview with Phoebe Plummer, 21, a mathematics and computer science student. She was involved in the ‘tomato soup’ campaign at the National Gallery in London.
Interview with two other members of Just Stop Oil, including Hannah Torrance Bright, 22, a student at Glasgow School of Art. She staged the action at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow in June.
Oli Mould, Associate Professor ‘Human Geography’, Royal Holloway University of London: Three arguments why Van Gogh’s sunflower was a valid target.
Gas, oil and heritage, oiled history and corporate sponsorship in Dutch museums (1990-2021). Research carried out by historians Gertjan Plets and Marin Kuijt. Download here.
Recto Verso: Protest in museum spaces, a translated extract from ‘Artwash. Big Oil and the Arts’, author Mel Evans, 2015,
Cultural sponsorship’s ‘black box’. A study of the preparation and significance of corporate sponsorship by Shell in the science museum NEMO Science Museum in Amsterdam.
Hannah van der Plaats master’s thesis, June 2020
Art and Climate: A Contemporary Dilemma, An examination of how museums legitimize their ties to the fossil fuel industry and how they deal with criticism of those ties. Master’s thesis by Lynn van Ewijk, February 2021.