Vincent van Gogh‘s masterpiece Sunflowers was vandalized with a can of tomato soup at London’s National Gallery. Activists just can’t stay away from priceless works, apparently. The protesters were part of Just Stop Oil, an activist group against the fossil fuel industry. Video footage shows two members approaching the van Gogh painting, and dousing it with Heinz tomato soup. They then glued themselves to the wall.
When asked, they said the tomato soup was an allusion to the current gas price crisis in Britain. A large number of homeowners are currently unable to heat their homes or cook food. Luckily, the painting, worth $85 million, only suffered minor damage to the frame. The protestors were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and damage.
Art is too often the victim of sensationalist activism. From the Mona Lisa smeared with cake, to the Picasso on view in Australia which protestors glued their hands to it. But what does that actually accomplish? All it does is ruin valuable pieces for shock value and views. Obviously, galleries and museums are popular spots due to visitor numbers. But it does little to stir the hearts of the offenders.
The performance of protest needs a clear focus. If, for example, you’re protesting the creation of oil paints, vandalizing a painting makes more sense. Still rotten, but effective. Protest only works if it affects the offending power. It’s naturally a reactionary practice. But damaging artwork to send a message reads as petty villainy. Actions like these rarely point the finger at the intended target.