As U.N. Climate Talks Continued in Egypt, Protesters Simultaneously Targeted Sculptures in Three European Cities

As U.N. Climate Talks Continued in Egypt, Protesters Simultaneously Targeted Sculptures in Three European Cities

Climate activists in Europe targeted artworks in three locations on Friday, but these protests were a departure from past actions as these works were not protected by glass. The three protests were also for the first time staged to take place on the same day as part of a concerted effort.

On Friday in Paris, Milan, and Oslo, climate activists from local organizations under the umbrella group A22 Network doused sculptures with orange paint or flour, as U.N. climate talks were taking place in Egypt. This time, the works were hit directly, and lacked protective covering. Two instances involved outdoor sculptures. Nevertheless, none of the art pieces were reportedly damaged, though some are still being monitored for possible further cleaning.

At the front entrance to the Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection museum in Paris, two members of the French group Dernière Rénovation (Last Renewal) doused Charles Ray’s stainless-steel sculpture Horse and Rider with orange paint. One of the protesters also climbed the life-sized horse and put a white T-shirt over the rider’s torso. The shirt read, “We have 858 days left,” referencing a deadline for reducing carbon emissions.

The hotly debated attacks on artworks by climate activists continue at a fast pace around the world, but until now, most instances have involved art kept behind glass coverings, preventing any real damage. But fears persist that similar acts could potentially do irreversible damage. Earlier this month a joint statement by international museum directors said they “were deeply shocked by …[the] risky endangerment” of artworks in their care in light of this continuing trend.

On Friday, French minister of culture Rima Abdul Malak visited the Bourse de Commerce following the incident, and tweeted: “Eco-vandalism steps up a notch: an unprotected sculpture by Charles Ray was sprayed with paint in Paris.” Abdul Malak thanked personnel who “intervened rapidly,” adding: “Art and environmentalism are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are common causes!”

The Bourse, whose CEO Emma Lavigne was present during Abdul Malak’s visit, declined to comment about the incident. Charles Ray’s studio also did not respond to request for comment.

The same day, the 46-foot-tall Monolith (1944) by Gustave Vigeland in Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park, along with surrounding sculptures by the same artist, were also doused with orange paint by local group, Stopp oljeletinga (Stop Oil Search). The Oslo monolith is a popular outdoor attraction, and depicts 121 men, women, and children intertwined and carved into a single piece of granite.

Cleaning the porous sculptures will be more complicated than other works that have been target, the museum said.

“We have done the required cleaning for now. However, we [continue to] monitor the situation to see if the paint has soaked into the granite. If so, we will, of course, consider further requirements,” Vigeland Museum director Jarle Strømodden said in an email to ARTnews. “Neither The Monolith, nor the granite sculptures in question, have been physically damaged. The sculptures are situated in a public domain, a park which is open to all 24/7 365. It’s all a matter of trust.”

The French group Dernière Rénovation explained Friday’s various protests involving artworks were done “simultaneously around the entire world,” according to the group’s Instagram post.

The same day in Milan, the local Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) poured bags of flour on Andy Warhol’s 1979 painted BMW at the Fabbrica Del Vapore art center. The group also confirmed, “the action took place simultaneously in other countries in the world, with the other campaigns of the A22 Network.”

Reached by telephone, an employee at the Fabbrica Del Vapore said the Warhol-painted BMW had been cleaned and is back on view as part of their Andy Warhol exhibition on view until March 2023.

Reactions to the dramatic methods of climate protesters are divided. Israeli writer Etgar Keret recently likened the attacks to a form of “hate crime against art,” in a November 17 editorial for the French daily Liberation. Meanwhile, political reporter Thomas Legrand, argued in the same French daily that climate activists are “in reality quite calm,” if compared to French “ultra-leftist” groups of the 1970s and ’80s. “I find them rather patient, polite and peaceful,” he wrote, given the urgent context. “How can we not understand?”

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