Munch’s “The Scream” painting was targeted by three activists at Oslo museum

The action took place on the same day that the International Council of Museums (ICOM) published a message warning about the danger these actions impose on works of art, not forgetting the threats that “climate change” also “represents for cultural heritage”, and in the same week that representatives of about 100 museum institutions from around the world stressed the fragility of the pieces in their custody.

About today’s action in Oslo, the Norwegian police, on its social network Twitter page, reports that the museum’s security guards stopped the young women and alerted the officers after they threw glue on the painting, which was not damaged since it is in a glass case. The box was, however, damaged.

Two of the activists clung to the painting while the third filmed the scene, shouting “There will be no shouting when people die” and “There will be no shouting when politicians ignore science”, the NTB news agency reported.

The young women belong to the environmental group Stopp Oljetinga (Stop Oil Activity/Stop oil activity), which, in a statement, said the activists’ action was meant to alert people and put pressure on the Norwegian government to change policy as it is the largest oil and gas exporter in Western Europe.

A spokeswoman for the group told public broadcaster NRK that they chose Munch’s most famous work, an iconic expressionist painting, to draw attention to it-itself, with no intention of damaging it.

Norwegian Culture Minister Anette Trettebergstuen reacted to the incident considering that “this is an unacceptable form of action”: “While many of us support the climate struggle as one of the most important struggles of our time, attacking priceless art does nothing to help the cause.”

Similar actions have been taken by climate change activist groups around the world in recent weeks, targeting a Claude Monet painting in a museum near Berlin, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” in London, Goya’s “Majas” in Madrid, and Pablo Picasso’s “Massacre in Korea” on display in Melbourne, Australia.

Works by Andy Warhol, Vermeer and Botticelli were also the targets of protest actions.

In a joint statement, representatives from nearly 100 institutions around the world, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum, London’s British Museum, and Paris’ Louvre Museum, warned this week of the risks caused by such climate protests to priceless works of art.

“In recent weeks, there have been several attacks on works of art in international museum collections. The activists responsible for the actions severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” write museum and art gallery representatives, quoted today by The Washington Post.

Also the group of 92 ICOM representatives, in a message published today on its ‘website’, states that museum directors are increasingly “frustrated” and “deeply shaken” by the danger these actions impose on art.

Responding to the museums’ coordinated statement this week about the risk imposed on the works, a spokesperson for the UK climate action group Just Stop Oil – which, among other actions, had thrown tomato soup at the painting “Sunflowers” – told the Washington Post today that “art and public galleries are also places of contestation”. “Ending the new oil and gas is a fight that needs to be done in and out of galleries.”

Following recent climate activist actions in museums, ICOM acknowledged and shared “the concerns expressed by museums regarding the safety of collections and the concerns of climate activists in the face of an environmental catastrophe that threatens life on Earth.”

“ICOM sees the choice of museums as a backdrop to these climate protests as a testimony to their symbolic power and relevance in discussions around the climate emergency,” reads the ICOM statement which recalls “the role of museums as key actors in initiating and supporting climate action with their communities” and commends their commitment to this mission, demonstrated through educational programs, dedicated exhibitions, community outreach, and research.

ICOM draws attention to the impact these demonstrations can have on the work of museum professionals and volunteers who strive to promote and protect “valuable heritage assets for public enjoyment”.

“To achieve the full transformative potential that museums have for sustainable development,” ICOM wants museums to be seen as allies in responding to the common threat of climate change, the statement further reads.

As political and civil society leaders gather in Sharm El-Sheik for the COP27 world climate conference, ICOM “recalls the need for bold action to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate global warming. Climate change poses a growing threat to cultural heritage, tangible and intangible, museums and their collections – from natural disasters to increasing difficulties in maintaining conservation conditions due to extreme weather,” it concludes.

In Portugal, museum directors contacted by the Lusa news agency last week expressed their concern over cases of environmentalist actions, which they condemned, having stepped up surveillance of the cultural heritage in their care.

At stake is “the very democratic nature” of museums, which brought art to the public space, and made it “citizens’ collective property”, as they underlined, in that work disclosed by Lusa agency.

Updated: November 13, 2022 — 8:57 am

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