Across Britain in recent weeks – at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and London’s Courtauld Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Gallery – demonstrators from the Just Stop Oil protest group have been battling the frames of famous works of art.
This has drawn quite a fuss as shocked visitors and museum employees took in the spectacle, which is exactly the plan.
These protests are intended to draw the attention of art world leaders and raise public awareness of the dangers that governments could initiate with new oil and gas projects in the wake of the climate crisis. So far, the stunts are working: news agencies report breathlessly on the protests, and footage of protesters explaining their case has been captured widely shared on social media.
“I am acting today because I cannot live in a bubble of normality when society is collapsing around us and people in the Global South are suffering so much,” said protester Emily Brocklebank, who referenced the painting by Vincent Van Gogh from 1889 Peach trees in bloom at the Courtauld Gallery, according to Just Stop Oil. “Billionaires are getting richer, while nurses queue at blackboards, tens of millions are starving around the world, and half the world’s population faces extreme dangers from heat waves, floods, fires and famine.”
On July 4th, another Just Stop Oil contestant appeared on British television and engaged in a heated debate GMB Co-host Ed Balls.
Some artists were extremely unamused by the protests: “I’m not interested,” a Manchester Art Gallery employee reportedly said to a Just Stop Oil protester who had pasted himself on the 1809 painting by JMW Turner Thomson’s Aeolian Harp, when he tried to speak. “No. No. No. You’ve defaced our property… I don’t want to hear a word you have to say. So please show us some respect by just keeping quiet… Let this be a silent protest. The Manchester Art Gallery did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Nonetheless, direct action stunts have proven to be powerful communication tools in museums and galleries. Nan Goldin and her group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) have staged several disruptive protests in museums to highlight the opioid-selling Sackler family’s involvement in the art world, prompting many museums to remove the Sackler name from their walls .
Similarly, protests at MoMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York have been effective in urging institutions to change from within: After months of protests demanding his involvement in tear gas maker Safariland, the former Whitney Vice Chairman, Warren B. Kanders resigned from his position at the museum.
Simon Bramwell, a UK-based Just Stop Oil demonstrator, told The Daily Beast that he took part in sticking himself to a copy of Leonardo da Vinci The last supper Attributed to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio at the Royal Academy. “My experience with that — it’s been mixed,” Bramwell said. “It hurt, but mostly because I was stuck in a really stupid position.”
“I prefer doing things that directly contribute to liberating, creating and growing nature directly.”
— Simon Bramwell
Bramwell is a co-founder of the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion. He first mobilized for Just Stop Oil in April and has worked with many other activist organizations over the years. “I prefer to do things that directly contribute to liberating, creating and allowing nature to grow, and apart from that it’s this area of direct action that also appeals to many different parts of the human experience, like that art actions,” Bramwell said.
The plan for Just Stop Oil activists to tape themselves to paintings has long been in the cards, Bramwell explained, adding that the group was discussing a protest in Bristol in 2020 where Black Lives Matter protesters carried a statue of the Demolished slaver Edward Colston while they were in the idea-generating stage.
“From a very pragmatic point of view, glue is an easy way to get away with it,” explained Bramwell. “It challenges, upsets and polarizes people, and it also walks a tightrope between directly interfering with a painting and destroying a painting. Attempting to minimize the damage to our culture, that’s what it’s all about: Our culture is on the brink of self-destruction.”
“If you can guide the conversation in culture, politics follows, and there’s no better place for that than the art world,” Bramwell said. “It’s steeped in iconoclastic controversy, but also classical philosophy and thought, and it absolutely seemed like an ideal area to, if you will, hold the art world itself to account.”
“One of the guards sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which was amazing.”
— Simon Bramwell
Bramwell said Just Stop Oil got the answers they were hoping for. “The participants really got it,” he said. “Once they realized we weren’t a threat, the museum staff relaxed and got involved with us, too. One of the guards sang ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ which was amazing and we caught up with one of the directors of the Royal Academy and had a good chat.”
“The painting … suffered minor damage to the frame and there was also some surface damage to the paintwork on the painting, both of which have now been successfully addressed,” the National Gallery, the site of another Just Stop Oil protest, told The Daily Beast in a statement but declined to comment further. At the National Gallery, protesters had taped themselves to John Constable’s 1821 painting The Hay Wagon.
Bramwell said Just Stop Oil is communicating with UK artists interested in taking part in planned upcoming protests and that “the invitation is open” to international groups interested in continuing the glue protests in the US
“There is a great, urgent need to speak the truth about these times and that, to put it bluntly, we’re all screwed if we don’t change things fairly quickly,” Bramwell said.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/just-stop-oil-protesters-are-glued-to-masterpieces-can-it-help-save-the-world?source=articles&via=rss Just Stop Oil protesters are taped to masterpieces. Can it help save the world?