Protesters have thrown soup and glued themselves to famous artworks around the world, prompting response by high-profile galleries including Moma and the Louvre
Climate activists targeting masterpieces around the world are not fully aware of how delicate the artworks are, the directors of almost 100 galleries have warned, saying they have been “deeply shaken” by the attacks.
This year, famous artworks have been attacked by protesters from various activist groups demanding action on the climate crisis. The incidents include a German environmental group throwing mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet painting in a Potsdam museum, activists from Just Stop Oil throwing tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London, a group splashing pea soup on a van Gogh masterpiece in Rome, Extinction Rebellion campaigners targeting a Picasso painting in Melbourne, and activists gluing themselves to artworks by Botticelli, Boccioni, Van Gogh and other old masters.
Most recently, on Wednesday, two protesters from the Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies group scrawled over Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans, at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
“In recent weeks, there have been several attacks on works of art in international museum collections. The activists responsible for them severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” the gallery and museum directors wrote in a joint statement published online.
“As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.
“Museums are places where people from a wide variety of backgrounds can engage in dialogue and which therefore enable social discourse,” the statement continued. “In this sense, the core tasks of the museum as an institution – collecting, researching, sharing and preserving – are now more relevant than ever. We will continue to advocate for direct access to our cultural heritage. And we will maintain the museum as a free space for social communication.”
The statement was co-signed by almost 100 directors of high-profile institutions, many of which have been targeted by activists already.
The signatories include the heads of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery in London; the Gallerie degli Uffizi and Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Italy; the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou and Musée national Picasso-Paris in France; and the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.
Up until now, most of the galleries have remained tight lipped after the attacks, not wanting to draw attention to them or their security protocols. After the defacement of the Warhol work in Canberra, a National Gallery of Australia spokesperson said: “The national gallery does not wish to promote these actions and has no further comment.”
None of the works targeted have had lasting damage as many are covered by glass. The climate activists are seemingly targeting the most famous works not to damage them, but to draw media attention to the lasting damage of the climate crisis.
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During the attack on van Gogh’s Sunflowers in London, Just Stop Oil protesters shouted: “What is worth more? Art or life? Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”
Last Generation, the German environmental group behind the attack on the Monet painting, echoed the sentiment in a post afterwards, asking: “What is worth more, art or life?”
The US organisation backing the Just Stop Oil protests, the Climate Emergency Fund, have promised protests will continue across Europe and the US.
“More protests are coming, this is a rapidly growing movement and the next two weeks will be, I hope, the most intense period of climate action to date,” said Margaret Klein Salamon, executive director of the Climate Emergency Fund. “So buckle up.”

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