Art, a new target for environmental activists

This is an advertisement which the Heinz company, which manufactures, among other things, tomato soup, would have done well without. On Friday October 14, two of his cans were brandished in front of the public at the National Gallery, in London, by two young women who had just sprinkled the contents on Sunflowers by Van Gogh (fortunately protected by a window). It was not an artistic action (they would have preferred, in this case, the Campbell soup immortalized by Andy Warhol), but a way of protesting against the exploitation of fossil fuels.

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Phoebe Plummer, 21, and Anna Holland, 20, removed their jackets beforehand, revealing T-shirts branded with the British organization Just Stop Oil, then committed their misdeed before smearing one hand with glue, stare at the bottom of the wall and ask questions: “Which is worth more, art or life? », asked Phoebe Plummer. This canvas “is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about protecting a painting or protecting our planet and our people? The cost of living crisis is part of the oil crisis, fuel is unaffordable for millions of chilled and starving families. They can’t even afford to heat a can of soup. »

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Even if the protest is confused, anyone currently living in Britain, or anyone who agrees that global warming and the use of fossil fuels are linked can only recognize the righteousness of their fight. But the means used to promote it have, in this specific case, aroused contrasting reactions: attacking a work of art, by poor Van Gogh moreover, offends the sensibilities of many, including those who are supporters of their cause.

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This is perceived, better than elsewhere, on the instagram page by New York journalist Jerry Saltz, Pulitzer Prize winner, one of the most influential art critics in the world. His post on the matter drew thousands of comments, mostly from knowledgeable amateurs or art professionals. That of the British artist Tracey Emin notably : “Art is not the enemy. » Or Brazilian Vik Muniz: “Genuinely well-meaning people do really stupid things as long as someone is there to post a video on TikTok. »

Scene went viral

This is precisely the purpose of the maneuver. In the room, one or more accomplices were filming the scene, which quickly went viral – several million views – on social networks. Just Stop Oil is not at its first attempt: in July, activists glued themselves to the frame of a copy of The Lord’s Supperby Leonardo da Vinci, preserved at the Royal Academy of Arts, in London, and others, the Italians of Ultima Generazione (“last generation”) at Spring by Botticelli, from the Uffizi Museum in Florence. Their comrades from the Extinction Rebellion movement are not left out, they stuck together in Melbourne, Massacre in Koreaby Picasso.

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Art, a new target for environmental activists