Activists from the environmental group Just Stop Oil, a coalition of activist organizations in the United Kingdom whose members regularly perform acts of civil disobedience, glued themselves to two paintings: one in the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow yesterday, the other at the Courtauld Institute in London today.
At the Courtauld, two activists with the group affixed themselves to Vincent van Gogh’s Peach Trees in Blossom (1889), which is considered a highlight of the museum’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist holdings.
In a statement released by Just Stop Oil, one of the protesters, Louis McKechnie, said, “It is immoral for cultural institutions to stand by and watch whilst our society descends into collapse. Galleries should close. Directors of art institutions should be calling on the government to stop all new oil and gas projects immediately. We are either in resistance or we are complicit.”
The Courtauld has reported that the painting is undamaged.
“The relevant work, Peach Trees in Blossom by Van Gogh, has been removed from display,” wrote a representative of the Courtauld in an email. “Our initial assessment is that the painting is undamaged. The frame will require treatment to remove glue residue before the work can be returned to display.”
Yesterday, activists Carmen Lean and Hannah Torrance Bright attached themselves to Horatio McCulloch’s painting My Heart’s in the Highlands (1860). There have not been any reports of damage to the McCulloch painting.
Torrance Bright is currently a student at the Glasgow School of Art, and Lean is an architecture student.
“I’m an artist, I love art, but instead of spending my time making art I’m taking actions like this, spending time in and out of cells, and being punished by our legal system for begging the government to let my generation have a future,” said Torrance Bright in a statement released by Just Stop Oil. “We hold these works of art sacred, but what is more sacred than life itself?”
Lean explained the choice of My Heart’s in the Highlands in the same statement.
“This landscape was painted in 1860 at the height of the highland clearances, when whole crofting [small scale farming] communities were evicted by a new class of landlords ruthlessly pursuing their own private interests,” said Lean. “It was only when crofters organized and resisted that they won rights.”
Lean added that the threat from oil and gas companies should spur people to learn from history, saying, “Civil disobedience is scary but it is the only sane thing to do and you won’t regret it.”
The Art Newspaper reported that as the protesters were being led away from the museum, one of them said that the “art world is responsible; every sector of our culture is responsible.”
The museum closed early yesterday but reopened on a normal schedule today.
Update, 6/30/22, 2:54 p.m.: This story was updated to include Just Stop Oil’s action at the Courtauld Institute.
Update, 7/1/22, 10:25 a.m.: This story was updated to include a statement from the Courtauld Institute.