In the last several months we’ve seen a major uptick in protestors entering art museums, hurling some sort of messy substance at a major work of art, and then gluing themselves to either the painting, the frame, or the wall next to the work. The most recent to occur was Tuesday when activists poured oil over Klimt’s “Death and Life”. The protestors claim they are doing this in the name of bringing attention to the dramatic effects of climate change and removing our dependency on fossil fuels. Their alarm over what might happen to the world if we don’t dramatically change course is shared by many all over the world.
But what happens when your message gets lost due to the method of protest? Or the method of protest merely reinforces the mindset of climate change deniers that climate change is a conspiracy driven by “woke radical leftists”? As these protests increase in frequency, the conversation becomes less and less about climate change and more about the potential damage done to the artwork.
Earlier this month the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released a statement: “This Association has always been clear that attacks on works of art cannot be justified, whether the motivations are political, religious, or cultural…. Art crosses boundaries of time and place to underscore the creativity that people everywhere have expressed, and they represent our shared humanity…. Attacking art for any purpose undermines those common bonds. Such protests are misdirected, and the ends do not justify the means.”
Luckily, no permanent damage has been inflicted so far. This does not mean there were no costs involved in removing the glue and other substances from the glass and historically significant frames. The question is though, how long will it be before an important work of art is permanently damaged? Everyone will be discussing the damage and denouncing the protestors’ actions. No one will be discussing the protestors’ message.