Vandals or Activists?

Nina Nazarova

 (ARUCAD Faculty of Arts Department of Plastic Arts 2nd Year Student)

Climate activists toss mashed potatoes on a painting by Claude Monet in a German museum to call attention to climate issues. Shortly before the works of Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Goya, and Vermeer were subjected to similar action. Hands glued to the pictures. poured soup, and thrown cakes are all happening now with exhibits in museums. Who and why announced the hunt for masterpieces in museums in Europe and how is global warming connected with that?

It is unlikely that the tired cashier would have thought that Heinz tomato soup she sold that day can go down in history. A little later the bright orange contents of the canned food spread picturesquely over one of the most famous canvases in the history Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”.

The protesters said the action was intended as a call to think about climate issues. “People are starving, people are freezing, people are dying. We have a climate disaster and you are only afraid of tomato soup or mashed potatoes in the picture. Do you know what I’m afraid of? I fear what science is telling us that we won’t be able to feed our families by 2050. Does the mashed potato in the picture need to make you listen? This painting won’t be worth anything if we have to fight over food,” the protester said.

In July they glued themselves to Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in London and Botticelli’s “Spring” in Florence and at the end of October they “fed” the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” soup in The Hague. These organizations operate under different names. For example, “Just Stop Oil” in the UK, “Ultima Generazione” in Italy, and “Letzte Generation” in Germany. Participants of the actions have repeatedly stressed that masterpieces protected by a piece of glass do not suffer. In Madrid’s Prado vandals glued themselves to the frame and wall, not to the canvas. So the frame of a Van Gogh painting was slightly damaged in the National Gallery but the canvas itself returned to the exhibition five hours after he incident.

“Our actions are called stupid, funny – they are. But we are asking society serious questions,” says one of the representatives of “Just Stop Oil” Emma Brown. According to her words, they managed to excite and hook a new audience, the middle and high class. However, there is still cause for concern.

Does a special coating reliably protect masterpieces from vandals? These screens are not designed to be thrown at cans of soup. Their main task is to protect the fragile canvas from dust, dirt, and UV radiation.

In addition, not all valuable works are closed. The glass makes it difficult to see the pictures. After all, not only visual is important but also the tactility of the surface, the feeling of the thickness of the strokes. Sometimes the frame is an integral part of the work because it was chosen by the artist himself. In particular, so did Monet. There is also a financial nuance. Anti-reflective coatings are quite expensive.

The main question is what result eco-activists achieve. News of more damage to artworks is always perceived negatively. It is not very clear why cultural heritage should be destroyed in the name of nature. There is also an opposite opinion. “These works of art have been given new life. A can of soup — hello to Warhol! The paintings have gained additional social significance,” says Stacey Freeman, author of Museum Activism. And the price of these already priceless masterpieces has only skyrocketed: acts of vandalism usually raise the status of an art object.

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