Across the UK over the past two weeks, at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow and the Courtauld Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Manchester Art Gallery and the National Gallery, all in London, protesters from the protest group Just Stop Oil have glued themselves to the frames of famous artworks.
This caused a big stir as shocked patrons and pissed off museum employees attended the show, which is precisely the plan.
These protests aim to grab the attention of art world leaders and alert the public to the dangers of governments launching new oil and gas projects as the climate crisis deepens. So far, the stunts are working: news outlets are gasping for coverage of the protests, and footage of protesters stating their case has been released. widely shared on social networks.
“I am taking action today because I cannot live in a bubble of normalcy as society collapses around us and people in the South suffer so much,” said protester Emily Brocklebank, who spoke glued to the painting of Vincent Van Gogh from 1889. Peach trees in bloom at the Courtauld Gallery, said, according to Just Stop Oil. “Billionaires are getting richer while nurses line up at food banks, tens of millions of people around the world are starving to death, and half of the world’s population is in extreme danger from heat waves, floods , fires and famine.”
On July 4, another Just Stop Oil participant made a controversial appearance on British television, engaging in a heated debate with GMB co-host Ed Balls.
Some art workers weren’t amused by the protests: ‘I’m not interested,’ a Manchester Art Gallery worker reportedly told a Just Stop Oil protester, who stuck to JMW’s painting Turner of 1809. Thomson’s Aeolian Harp, when he tried to speak. “No. No. No. You defaced our property…I don’t want to hear a word of what you have to say. So please give us some respect by keeping quiet. …Let it be a silent protest.The Manchester Art Gallery did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Nevertheless, direct action stunts in museums and galleries have proven to be effective methods of communication. Nan Goldin and her group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) have organized several disruptive protests at museums to expose the involvement of the opioid-trafficking Sackler family in the art world, prompting many museums to eventually withdraw the Sackler name from their walls.
Likewise, protests at MoMA and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York have been effective in pushing the institutions to change from within: after months of protests calling for its stake in tear gas maker Safariland, former Vice President of the Whitney Warren B. Kanders has stepped down from his role at the museum.
Simon Bramwell, a UK-based Just Stop Oil demonstrator, told The Daily Beast he took part in sticking to a copy of Leonardo da Vinci The last supper attributed to Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio at the Royal Academy. “My experience on this was mixed,” Bramwell said. “It hurt me, but mostly because I stuck myself in a really stupid position.”
“I prefer to do things that are directly involved in the direct release, creation and growth of nature.”
— Simon Bramwell
Bramwell is the co-founder of the global environmental movement Extinction Rebellion. He first mobilized with Just Stop Oil in April and has worked alongside many other activist organizations over the years. “I prefer to do things that are directly involved in the direct release, creation and growth of nature, and apart from that it is this area of direct action which also speaks to many different parts of the experience human, like artistic actions,” said Bramwell. .
The plan for Just Stop Oil activists to stick to paintings has long been in the cards, Bramwell said, adding that the group discussed a 2020 protest in which Black Lives Matter protesters tore down a statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol while in the idea -generating phase.
“From a very pragmatic point of view, the glue is easy to use,” Bramwell explained. “It challenges, upsets and polarizes people, and it’s also a line between directly intervening with a painting and destroying a painting. Trying to minimize the damage to our culture is what it’s all about, ultimately: our culture is about to self-destruct.
“If you can steer the conversation in culture, politics follows, and there’s no better place to do that than the art world,” Bramwell said. “It’s full of iconoclastic controversies, but also classical philosophy and thought, and it absolutely seemed like an ideal area to report on, if you will, the art world itself.”
“One of the security 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, they really really understood,” he said. “Once they realized we weren’t a threat, museum workers relaxed and engaged with us as well. One of the security guards sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which was amazing, and we met one of the directors of the Royal Academy and had a great chat.
“The painting … suffered minor damage to its frame and there was also some disturbance to the surface of the varnish on the painting, both of which have now been successfully dealt with,” the National Gallery said, the website of another Just Stop Oil. protest, the Daily Beast told in a statement, but declined to comment further. At the National Gallery, protesters had stuck to painter John Constable The Hay Wain.
Bramwell said Just Stop Oil was contacting UK artists interested in taking part in planned and upcoming protests, and that “the invitation is open” for international groups interested in continuing the glue protests in the US.
“There’s a huge, urgent need to tell the truth about these times, and that we’re all, to put it bluntly, screwed unless we change things fast enough,” Bramwell said.