Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022

ANDanother day, another gallery: attacks on art in the name of climate action have become a headline-grabbing obsession with a terrible logic of escalation. The nastier the treatment of a famous masterpiece, the greater the media coverage.

Now, members of the Letzte Generation Österreich (Last Generation Austria) have smeared “non-toxic fake oil” all over the glass cover of Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life, a colorful vision of rose-gold intertwined human bodies threatened by the reaper. You can’t see much in the disturbing images of the attack at the Leopold Museum in Vienna: the black and purple blur almost obscures the delicate image. The aggressiveness of the attack takes this wave of action a step beyond the tomato soup of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers and the mashed potatoes of Monet. But a step further to where?

There is no way that governments will change their policies because of these protests. But there is every chance that a great work of art will eventually be destroyed.

The action in Vienna makes this painfully obvious. This is iconoclasm. There is a deliberate flirtation with art destruction, an implicit threat to go all the way, expressing contempt for art and the museums that try to preserve and protect it.

I cannot pretend to respect this form of protest. It makes no sense and has no moral coherence. It’s arrogant to walk into a museum and assume that everyone around you is some sort of self-satisfied aesthetes who don’t care about the environment. “What is worth more? Art or life?” asked the Just Stop Oil activists who threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. What a ridiculously false debate. Loving art does not devalue life – on the contrary, it helps us appreciate and see nature. All art at the National Gallery, London , where the soup attack took place, from Giotto to Van Gogh, is based on a sharp look at life Praise our planet.

Climate activists throw black liquid on a painting by Gustav Klimt in Vienna – video

John Constable’s The Haywain was glossed over in one of the first Just Stop Oil attacks this summer, but Constable was nonetheless a critic of the Industrial Revolution. He painted chimneys darkening the sky with carbon in his canvas The Opening of Waterloo Bridge. The same romantic love of nature that breathes in his paintings inspired the 19th century art critic John Ruskin to champion the natural world as well as social justice.

But the art attackers seem to show no interest in the content or purpose of the masterpieces they bully. Instead, they seem completely alien to art itself.

Attacking “iconic” art attracts attention and supposedly sparks debate. However, the only discussion here is about the protest. I have yet to see evidence of renewed thinking or sensitivity about the climate crisis. Instead, they create articles like this one about the rightness and wrongness of the act. Dramatic gestures in museums do not express and heal the pain of the planet, but collective action. This must be based on democratic agreement, not on the coercion of a man with a petrol bomb standing next to Picasso’s Guernica. Where we seem to be going.

Do we really want to go further into a realm where every work of art is fair game for a higher purpose?

The Leopold Museum received sponsorship from an oil and gas company for free admission on the day of the attack. The relationship between the art world and the oil industry is one that must be resolved. However, this is not Klimt’s fault. He worked for mostly Jewish clients in the early 20th century, painting sensual visions of strong women and celebrating love. In his creative and passionate life, he was not known as an advocate of big oil, nor did he in any way contribute to the climate of crisis. There is no reason in the world that his art should be singled out for a climate protest.

Climate protesters should know that there is an unfortunate precedent for sabotaging Klimt’s loving, tender paintings. In 1945, after Hitler’s death, an SS unit set fire to a castle in southern Austria that housed some of his greatest works, destroying them forever.

Death and Life, that’s the name of Klimt’s painting. Those who attacked it think they are fighting for the latter, but they could also be fighting for the death of art itself.