On Oct 14, 2022, two young women from the eco-extremist organization “Just Stop Oil” entered London’s National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The duo wore coats to hide their matching black and white T-shirts reading Just Stop Oil. Their plan was to attack Sunflowers, the famous painting by Vincent Van Gogh.
When they entered Room 43 where Sunflowers is displayed, the two eco-vandals moved fast. They removed their coats, each taking a large can of Heinz tomato soup from a coat pocket. They opened the cans by pulling the tabs, and in a contemptuous manner hurled the soup onto the painting.
People in the room cried out in shock, one yelled “security!” but no one tried to stop the vandals. Thankfully the painting was covered with glass for protection, but the National Gallery said the antique frame was damaged.
The two vandals kneeled beneath the dripping wet framed painting, and hurriedly applied globs of superglue to their left palms. Each slapped their open left hand to the wall in order to glue themselves to it. Then came the cliched end-of-the-world speechifying typical of Just Stop Oil zealots. The 21-year-old Phoebe Plummer militantly proclaimed:
“What is worth more, art or life? Is it worth more than food? More than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people? The cost of living crisis is part of the cost of oil crisis, fuel is unaffordable to millions of cold, hungry families. They can’t even afford to heat a tin of soup.”
With that last line Phoebe picked up her empty soup tin and waved it in a gesture of concern. Then it was the turn of 20-year-old fellow vandal Anna Holland, who said: “UK families will be forced to choose between heating or eating this winter, as fossil fuel companies reap record profits.”
The Metropolitan Police eventually arrived, and un-glued the two eco-vandals from the wall. They were arrested for criminal damage and aggravated trespass. The authorities released them on the condition that they not enter galleries or museums; right… that will teach them a lesson! Just Stop Oil released a statement after the arrests:
“What use is art when we face the collapse of civil society? The art establishment, artists and the art-loving public need to step up into Civil Resistance if they want to live in a world where humans are around to appreciate art.”
And until the “art-loving public” obeys the command to join the “civil resistance,” the commissars of Just Stop OIl will continue to intimidate museums and threaten art lovers with the defacement of masterpiece paintings. This sounds a lot like hostage-taking to me, but only criminals and terrorists take hostages.
“What use is art” they ask, “when we face the collapse of civil society?” The answer is Felix Nussbaum, he was an artist and German Jew who witnessed the collapse of Germany’s civil society under the Nazi regime. His paintings were a record of the Holocaust as it happened; his 1943 Self Portrait with Jewish Identity Card was based on the lived experience of living furtively under Nazi terror. The point is, true artists should never give up, not even in the darkest hour. But the philistines of Just Stop Oil don’t know the first thing about art.
Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is one of the most popular artworks in the National Gallery’s entire collection. It could easily qualify as one of the most celebrated and well-known paintings in the world today. Everyday working people treasure the work, making Just Stop Oil’s vandalism all the more vile.
Vincent was a troubled man who suffered greatly from mental illness. He battled darkness and his art transported him to a place of rapture. He found blissfulness in sunflowers, painting them again and again. The public understands and appreciates this. That eco-extremists would dare target Vincent only points to their vacuous emptiness. They are not capable of ushering in a better world.
It should be noted here that Aileen Getty, the granddaughter of the Getty Oil founder, has donated heavily to the Los Angeles based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF).
The New York Times reported on Aug. 10, 2022 that the CEF gave Just Stop Oil “close to $1 million and helped cover salaries for 40 organizers and activists.” One should remember this when thinking of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers dripping with tomato soup.
It’s odd that the Just Stop Oil group seems unaware a war is being waged in Ukraine. The EU, UK, and US are “punishing” President Putin of Russia for invading Ukraine by sanctioning Russian oil and natural gas.
Like it or not, Western economies are driven by oil and natural gas. Choosing between “heating or eating” is the result of the UK government refusing to buy Russian fossil fuels. The UK announced a March 2022 ban on Russian oil.
Ironically, since Russia can’t sell oil and natural gas to the West, they’re selling it to the East, and Russia’s petroleum industry profits are skyrocketing. Meanwhile, fearing winter, European Union governments are cutting down forests so people can burn wood in their fireplaces to keep warm. So much for green politics and environmental concerns.
But let’s not let reality get in the way of our daydreams. The EU and the UK don’t need oil and natural gas. Solar and wind power will run the factories, light the cities, heat the homes, and fuel the cars, trucks, planes, ships, and railways. Just switch off your home lights, unplug the TV, close the curtains, bundle up in a second sweater, and stop cooking your meals. Comrades… you don’t have to heat-up that can of Heinz tomato soup in order to enjoy it!
On Sept. 9, 2022 I published an article on this blog titled: The Eco-Extremist War on Art.
It detailed the latest strategy from radical environmentalists, shutting down art museums and assaulting works of art. I admonished the corporate press for their near silence regarding these attacks. The soup can attack seems to have drawn some attention, but most mainstream reports refer to the perpetrators as “climate activists.” They are not activists, they are vandals.
In my Sept. 9th article I alluded to the complicity of the press with the following: “one vandal made a statement on climate collapse to members of the media, who just happened to be there when the totally unexpected event occurred.” It only took minutes for Just Stop Oil zealots to carry out their Oct 14 attack on Van Gogh’s painting. Are we to assume dozens of media reporters, photographers, and videographers, just happened to be strolling through the National Gallery when eco-vandals poured soup on Sunflowers. That is highly suspicious.
And speaking of complicity. The Hyperallergic art website published an article titled: Climate Activists Go Warhol on Van Gogh, Splashing “Sunflowers” With Tomato Soup. Before going further, Hyperallergic describes itself as a forum for “radical perspectives on art and society” that challenges “the art world status quo.” I’ve read Hyperallergic on and off, but I never thought it pushed against conventionality in the art world; rather I saw it buttressing the postmodern norm.
In the Go Warhol on Van Gogh article the co-founder and chief editor of Hyperallergic, Hrag Vartnanian, was featured in a TikTok video embedded in the essay. Titled Should We Be Freaking Out About Tomato Soup On A Van Gogh?, the video exposed Vartnanian’s infantile-leftism. I transcribed a few tidbits for your reading pleasure:
“Every time there’s a protest at a museum, people are clutching their f**king pearls about it. So this happens every times there’s a protest (…) Let’s be honest, you know what this is about, this is about the ultra-rich that are now associated with museums, their names are being put on buildings, their names are beside artworks that are donated, what do you think is going to happen?
(…) Let’s not freak out, let’s not overreact, the Van Gogh hasn’t been damaged as far as we known, even if it was… honestly, this is a climate crisis, and nobody wants the work damaged but, we also don’t want to create another climate of fear where we putting more and more barriers between us and the work.
This is property, these are not human beings, yes I wish the activists would do something different, yes I wish their protests were slightly different, but… it’s a crisis, people are not talking about the seriousness of the climate crisis we are going through. So who benefits from the freak out over things like this? Isn’t it just the wealthy and the museums doing whatever the hell board members tell them to do?
Now some people are going to say, ‘What does Van Gogh have to do with oil?’ ‘What does Van Gogh have to do with climate crisis?’ Well let me tell you, who is buying and selling Van Goghs? It is the same people that are on the boards of those companies, it is the same people who are being feted by these museums. So, you know what? If you don’t see a connection, then maybe you should think harder.”
Vartnanian might well be a member of Just Stop Oil. For him to say “let’s not overreact” to eco-extremists vandalizing museums, should exclude him as a rational voice representing the interests of artists. His “analysis” of Just Stop Oil actions sounds like a garbled version of anarcho-communist class hatred.
When Vartnanian justifies the repeated trashing of artworks with the hackneyed remark, “this is property, these are not human beings,” he gets into dangerous territory. When Just Stop Oil hurled soup at a beloved painting, it was an escalation of their militant tactics. Vartnanian and Hyperallergic shouldn’t be encouraging the mushrooming of “propaganda of the deed” actions carried out by zealots. Today the targets are property… tomorrow they will be people.