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Zeitgeist

Trashing great art is a pointless protest

Just Stop Oil activists throwing soup on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers

The squadron of climate activists trashing famous paintings with canned soup claim to be dramatising “the urgency of their issue”, says Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. But their stunts are “stupid”. Dawdling around galleries is “one of the last sources of unmediated pleasure for ordinary people”: in our surveilled world, museums still remain absent of “security barriers, or overly watchful guards”. These nihilistic protests will mean “prudent museums” increase security around their displays. Activists are simply making the “experience of the object hijacked more miserable” for art lovers.

More startling is the “foolishness of the targets chosen”. Art is an inherently subversive medium. Take the recent discovery that a Piet Mondrian picture had been hanging upside down for 75 years. Uncertainty about an artist’s intentions – including not knowing which way the piece hangs – is a sign of “tolerance for open-ended enquiry”. Mondrian’s work sought to interrogate basic premises with an “anarchic edge”, similar to the professed aims of oil protestors. Museums are the “churches of progressive-minded people”, for they celebrate the very qualities “dogmatists want to quelch”: the “vigorous acceptance of uncertainty” that lets us question our assumptions. Climate activists should celebrate artists as their revolutionary forebears, instead of assaulting their pictures for cheap publicity. “To be constantly making enemies out of potential friends is the opposite of political wisdom.”