Why do activists protest in museums and not in gas stations?  |  The weekly country

Why do activists protest in museums and not in gas stations? | The weekly country

the filmmaker said underground Jonas Mekas that art “is born free”, and that only “sick” societies like ours persist in locking it up in museums and centers of contemporary culture. Mekas wrote about the misadventures of reclusive art in the 1960s, a time inflamed with situationism, counterculture, and libertarian avant-garde. Taking art out into the street, so that it would produce “dazzling flashes of light” when it came into contact with life, seemed at the time to be an urgent and revolutionary program. Today, judging by the statement made public on November 10 by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), an organization that brings together around 40,000 exhibition halls from 141 countries, priorities have changed. The urgency is rather to protect art from a new threat: the revolutionary fervor of climate change activists. In the last couple of months, works like the majas, of Francisco de Goya; the Campbell’s soup cans, by Andy Warhol; The girl of the pearl, by Johannes Vermeer; The sower Y The sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh, or haystacks, by Claude Monet, have been the object of acts of vandalism of varying intensity. All over the planet, from Madrid to Canberra, passing through The Hague or Rome, this type of aggression proliferates performative and with a vaguely iconoclastic spirit that perhaps would not have completely displeased Warhol or Mekas himself. In general, they pursue more media impact than causing considerable damage and respond to two basic patterns of action: chaining themselves to the works forcing an eviction or throwing food at them.

The ban was opened, on May 28, by a 38-year-old climate activist who stamped a cream cake against the glass that protects the Gioconda in the Louvre Museum in Paris. Of the half dozen attacks on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting since 1956, this has been by far the most innocuous. The importance of this action lies, according to the journalist from ArtNews Caroline Goldstein, “in which it went viral instantly thanks to the videos broadcast by museum visitors and most of the media reported on it.” In doing so, he set a new standard when it comes to aggressive climate change activism: sneak into one of the planet’s top museums, dirty a famous piece of art, chant a couple of slogans, and chances are you’ll be hit. you win a place in the news.

However, as Goldstein herself recalls, “attempts to destroy great works of art, whether real or simulated, have a very relative, if not zero, political effectiveness.” No government agenda on fossil fuels is going to be disrupted by someone covering up a Van Gogh painting of pea soup.

The ICOM statement insists on the risk of “not taking into account how fragile these irreplaceable objects really are” against which an attack is being made. Not all art galleries have security measures like those of the Louvre and not all paintings can receive a level of protection comparable to that of The Gioconda. The proliferation of attacks would force museums to spend resources that are often not available to protect their catalogues, and would also force them to become institutions bunkered, in that kind of high security prisons full of imprisoned art that Mekas reviled in his day. In the short term, cultural managers such as Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, are considering measures such as exhaustive searches or access restrictions to counteract “this nihilistic activism that considers art to be something frivolous and superfluous against what would be legitimate.” attack in times of crisis”.

Claire Armitstead, staff writer for The Guardian, He considers that these boasts of vandalism with a political alibi were shocking a few weeks ago, but today they are on the way to becoming “as trivial as they are annoying.” Armitstead recognizes the activists “a certain sensitivity and culture when choosing their weapons”, because it is not the same to spray The sunflowers, of Van Gogh, with a Warholian tomato soup than to do it with a much more conventional urban guerrilla spray. However, “despite how progressive and situationist these supposed denunciations of the obscene commodification of art may be in a context of climate emergency”, the journalist refuses to accept that Van Gogh, the cursed artist who only sold a painting and a handful of lithographs and drawings, “be part of the problem”. Armitstead finds one of the ideas put forward by ecological action groups that have claimed responsibility for the assaults against Monet, Vermeer or Goya particularly unacceptable: the supposed incompatibility between art and life. “If you ask me which of the two I prefer, I will answer that it is complicated, because I cannot conceive of life without art or art without life”, she concludes.

As Caroline Goldstein recalls, until the irruption of this new batch of narrow-minded iconoclasts, attacks against art were considered acts of the disturbed or of lone wolves radicalized to the point of delirium. This was the case of Laszlo Toth, an Australian geologist who broke into St. Peter’s Basilica one day in May 1972 to give a long dozen hammer blows to the Piety by Michelangelo. Her excuse from him? The man considered himself the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and wanted to make amends to his mother, the Virgin Mary, whose image had been trivialized by a blasphemous statue. The damage it caused to the work was considerable, and probably would have reduced it to a mass of marble splinters had it not been for the intervention of an American sculptor, Bob Cassilly, who risked his skin to stop the action of Toth and his pickaxe. two-headed The geologist was deported to Australia after spending two years in a psychiatric institution. For Goldstein, the problem we are facing right now is that the current heirs of this bunch of messianic madmen believe they have a force majeure cause, the salvation of the planet, that justifies their excesses.

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