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Art & Culture

Degas Sculpture Vandalized in Washington, D.C. by Climate Activists

  • Craig Miller
  • |
  • May 15, 2023
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  • 3 minute read
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Degas Sculpture Vandalized in Washington, D.C. by Climate Activists
Key Takeaways
  • Climate activists targeted Edgar Degas's sculpture "Little Dancer Aged Fourteen" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., by smearing paint on the case and pedestal of the artwork to draw attention to the climate crisis and demand urgent action.
  • The incident is part of a global trend of climate activists targeting museums and monuments to raise awareness about the climate crisis, with high-profile artworks being targeted in Europe, Australia, and Canada.
  • Some of the protests have been funded by American oil heiress Aileen Getty, who co-founded the non-profit Climate Emergency Fund (CEF) in 2019 and donated $1 million of her personal wealth to support environmental activist groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion.
  • While some criticize the effectiveness and ethics of the activists' methods, they maintain that their protests are necessary to convey the urgency of the climate crisis and motivate society to take action.

In a recent protest, two climate activists targeted Edgar Degas’s sculpture “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

The protestors, Tim Martin and Joanna Smith from the climate group Declare Emergency, smeared paint on the case and pedestal of the artwork.

Their goal was to bring attention to the climate crisis and demand that President Joe Biden declare a climate emergency, as well as halt the issuance of new drilling permits and fossil fuel subsidies.

Following the incident, the museum’s director, Kaywin Feldman, issued a video statement on Twitter, condemning the behavior and announcing that the artwork had been taken off display for assessment by expert conservators.

A spokesperson from Declare Emergency emphasized that the protest was driven by fear and concern about the future climate, stressing the importance of engaging with the climate emergency emotionally to understand the severity of the situation.

Protests Across the Globe

This event is not an isolated incident; climate activists have been targeting museums and monuments worldwide to raise awareness about the climate crisis.

High-profile artworks by Vermeer, Goya, Monet, van Gogh, and Rubens have been targeted by activists in Europe, Australia, and Canada.

In Belgium, two activists were sentenced to two months in prison for a protest involving Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in The Hague.

The defendants glued themselves to the artwork, which remained unharmed.

Although not directly affiliated with the Just Stop Oil campaign, the protestors wore T-shirts displaying the group’s name.

Simon Bramwell, the cofounder of global environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, criticized the Belgian courts’ decision, claiming that governments and petrochemical companies are afraid of the protestors’ message.

Simon Bramwell, the cofounder of global environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, criticized the Belgian courts’ decision, claiming that governments and petrochemical companies are afraid of the protestors’ message.

Funding Controversy

The recent series of climate activism demonstrations has been funded by American oil heiress Aileen Getty.

As the granddaughter of J. Paul Getty, she co-founded the non-profit Climate Emergency Fund (CEF) in 2019 and donated $1 million of her personal wealth to support environmental activist groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion.

The connection to an oil heiress has drawn criticism, as some protests involve the vandalism of artworks or target institutions with no ties to funders involved in the fossil fuel industry.

However, the CEF asserts that its goal is to support movements demanding urgent climate action from governments and institutions.

Conclusion

As climate activists continue to target museums and monuments, the debate surrounding the effectiveness and ethics of their methods persists.

While critics argue that vandalizing artworks does more harm than good, activists maintain that their protests are necessary to convey the urgency of the climate crisis and motivate society to take action.

Craig Miller

Craig Miller

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