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“Despite much pearl-clutching, the €86m painting, protected by glass, was unharmed and back on display within six hours, more than can be said for the polar bears losing up to 2kg a day as the Arctic warms four times faster than the rest of the world”
‘Alexa: Who are Just Stop Oil?’
If the aim of the British environmental group was to capture the eyes and ears of the world this week, then job well done, I must admit.
Launched earlier this year, it hit headlines on Friday after two supporters splattered Vincent van Gogh’s iconic ‘Sunflowers’ painting with tomato soup at London’s National Gallery (presumably, they’re more into Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup series).
Viral footage showed two young women in Just Stop Oil T-shirts - who were later arrested - opening the tins and lobbing the contents at the 1888 masterpiece before gluing their hands to the wall to raise awareness of climate change.
Explaining their actions, one protester could be heard to ask: “What is worth more? Art or life? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”
She went on to reference the cost of living crisis and “millions of cold, hungry families” who “can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup” - and where’s the lie?
Over on Twitter, the shock stunt was labelled everything from “cultural extremism” to “anti-human nihilism” by those ironically doing exactly what the activists wanted - talking about it.
Not if the pair had sliced off part of their own ears, like the artist, and posted it to Saudi Aramco could it have attracted more attention; and what could demand more attention than the “biggest threat modern humans have ever faced”, as the United Nations has described it.
Aimed at stopping new fossil fuel exploration, the group has been involved in some pretty hare-brained protests in recent months, including the 21 year-old man who cable-tied himself by the neck to the goalpost at Goodison Park as Newcastle took on Everton in March, mistakenly believing the Magpies to be sponsored by the Saudi Arabian oil giant.
As the least likely group to vote however, we can’t have it both ways - complaining about Gen Z for being politically disengaged, then complaining when they do take action.
Alright, so the ‘Sunflower Two’ may not be up there with the hammering-wielding suffragettes of 1913 who attacked paintings in Manchester Art Gallery in the battle for votes for women.
But, even if you don’t agree with the audacious act of art vandalism, it beats sitting at home on your phone clicking on a change.org petition.
Incidentally, despite much pearl-clutching, the €86m painting, which was protected by glass, was unharmed and back on display within six hours, more than can be said for the polar bears losing up to 2kg a day as the Arctic warms four times faster than the rest of the world.
A rebel of the stuffy 20th century art world and nature lover, who knows, maybe Van Gogh himself would have approved of the fruity display of civil resistance.
The Dutch master famously once said that art is to console those who are broken by life.
But when the world itself is in the soup, even he would have to ponder what good a pretty painting hanging in a gallery - no matter its worth - will be to future generations.