Maj and Emma, two self-proclaimed climate activists, took part in a duo protest at the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, this past week, involving a Monet painting.
The activists decided to smear red paint onto a piece titled The Artist’s Garden at Giverny. This renowned painting from 1900, which is currently exhibited as part of the “The Garden – Six Centuries of Art and Nature” exhibition at the National Museum, showcases a vibrant landscape featuring pink and purple irises. The painting was loaned to the museum from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where it has been held since 1983.
However, these activists decided not to stop at the paint, gluing their hands to the protective glass covering the piece.
Maj and Emma were wearing shirts with an Återställ Våtmarker logo, which is an environmental organization with the goal of restoring the wetlands. The group released a video of the protest on Facebook and Twitter.
In an interview with the AFP, the team at Återställ Våtmarker claimed responsibility for the red paint demonstration, expressing their belief that the beautiful gardens we know and love, similar to the one depicted in Monet’s painting, would soon become distant memories if we continue to disregard this environmental crisis.
Helen Wahlgren, an Återställ Våtmarker spokesperson, emphasized that the climate catastrophe is not only an environmental crisis but also a health crisis.
“It’s resulted in the loss of millions of lives.”
Wahlgren called upon the Swedish government to take a harder stance in fulfilling its international climate commitments. She noted that even with the target of reducing emissions by 31%, Sweden’s emissions are on a gradual rise. For Wahlgren, this is unacceptable.
The National Museum’s press office originally confirmed that Emma and Maj applied paint to Monet’s famous piece on June 14 at around 2:30 in the afternoon. Now, museum conservators are closely examining the painting, which, luckily for them, is protected by a glass enclosure. They’re hoping that no damage has occurred.
In another story, however, the press office assured that the painting remained unharmed.
Hanna Tottmar, the National Museum’s head of press, told The Art Newspaper that they are currently talking with the lender regarding the possibility of reinstalling Monet’s artwork in the exhibition. As of now, the two women who were involved in the incident have been arrested by the Stockholm Region police. In a police press release, officials classified the crime as aggravated vandalism and mentioned that they are investigating whether or not anyone else was involved.
They will also review the museum’s surveillance camera footage as part of the investigation.
The police press release was later updated to specify that Emma and Maj were charged with suspicion of causing serious damage.
The incident at Stockholm’s National Museum is part of a series of climate protests taking place at art institutions and museums across the world, though especially in places like Europe, Canada, and the United States.
The aim of these protests is to draw the government’s attention to issues with the fossil fuel industry and the increasing global impact of climate change.
And while the team at Stockholm’s National Museum acknowledges the importance of climate activism, it expressed opposition to these kinds of actions.
“Jeopardizing or damaging works of art is not okay,” said Per Hedstrom, the museum’s acting superintendent.
The museum’s team works hard to emphasize the symbolic value of cultural heritage, and it has been clear about condemning any attacks directed towards it, regardless of the purpose.
The recent incident at the National Museum in Stockholm is not an isolated case of climate activists targeting art. In a similar incident in October, two London activists threw tomato soup on a Vincent Van Gogh painting, damaging the frame the artwork was in. The activists pleaded not guilty to criminal charges related to the damage caused.
The goal of true climate activism should be to engage with everyday people and persuade them to make changes in their own lives. It should foster a dialogue and an understanding.
Defacing artwork sends a negative message, and, unfortunately, alienates the very people these activists are trying to reach even further, shifting the focus away from the issue at hand and drawing attention to the act of vandalism instead.