On Nov. 8, 2022, two women from Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies (SFFS) entered the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Australia, and vandalized a famed silkscreen print series by Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup I. One vandal used blue spray-paint to draw squiggles on the framed artworks, while the other vainly attempted to glue a small Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies red banner to one of the damaged framed prints. What, no tomato soup?!
The museum had hung the ten prints in double rows, one above the other; the vandals were only able to reach the bottom row. After defacing the lower row of prints, the insufferables glued their right hands to the prints; one could be heard yelling: “We are in a climate emergency.” When confronted by museum security, the two pulled their hands off of the artworks before the glue could set and ran away like the cowards they are. The miscreants were not pursued nor arrested.
National Gallery staff took down the bottom row of prints to clean the frames and check for print damage. The museum told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “A protest has taken place at the National Gallery of Australia following similar incidents elsewhere in Australia and overseas.” The statement ended with the Gallery making clear it “does not wish to promote these actions and has no further comment.”
After their attack, the SFFS cadre, hoping to impress with their militant eloquence, commented from their Twitter account:
“Do you think Andy Warhol would have been proud? Stop pouring fuel on the fire. Choose a livable planet for all, over profits for a few. Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies is highlighting the danger of capitalism by glueing onto Andy Warhol. Art depicting consumerism gone mad. While Australians starve, Government pays $22,000 a minute to subsidize fossil fuels.”
Like the rest of their comrades in the climate collapse cult, the Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies group are a funereal bunch. The mirthless prose from their website sounds like the ranting of a death cult: “The old world is dying. We are in the last hour, the darkest hour. This world is being decimated before our eyes. We are in between moments.” These are the words used to recruit wackos to their cause.
Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies belongs to the so-called A22 Network, a loose-knit grouping of eco-fanatics that call themselves a “coalition of civil resistance organizations.”
It includes Just Stop Oil (UK), Letzte Generation (Germany), and Ultima Generazione (Italy), groups who have been raiding and vandalizing art museums since June 2022. Their strategy to stop government financial support of the natural gas and coal industries… is to trash art museums.
Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans were initially 32 small paintings on canvas, each measuring 16 by 20 inches and depicting a soup can with a different name; Chicken Noodle, Tomato, Green Pea, Cream of Mushroom, et cetera (at the time Campbell’s was manufacturing 32 different soup flavors). In 1962 Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a nobody when he showed these paintings at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles; it was his first solo exhibit. A handful of schmoes attended and Warhol never showed up. Not a single print was purchased; a New York showing of the prints was cancelled. If only that had been the end of Andy’s career.
The name Warhol ultimately became synonymous with Pop Art. Art critics and aficionados have thought, and still think, that his early 60’s artworks depicting Brillo Boxes, Dollar Bills, Coca-Cola Bottles, the faces of celebrities, and yes… Campbell Soup cans, were marxian critiques of capitalism, or subversive takes on the “dullness and ambivalence of American culture.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Warhol was apolitical. He worshiped celebrity and consumer culture, and his maxim was “business is the best art.” As for Campbell and Coca-Cola, he lived on the stuff and said as much. After his passing, Christie’s Auction house in 2010 sold a single Warhol Campbell Soup Can painting on canvas measuring 20 by 16 inches for $9 million. In 2022 Christie’s sold a Warhol silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe titled Shot Sage Blue Marilyn for $195 million. Dirty rotters.
It should come as no surprise that I’m not a fan of Andy Warhol, I never was. His Pop Art was banal and empty. Andy perhaps said it best: “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it.” I always got a kick out of the brilliant art critic Robert Hughes, who said in his 2008 documentary The Mona Lisa Curse, that Warhol “was one of the stupidest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
My dislike of Andy Warhol aside, I hold even less regard for the joyless Stop Fossil Fuel Subsidies group and their medievalist anti-art friends in the climate cult. While I spurn Warhol’s Pop Art mediocrities, I recognize his place in the history of 20th Century art; like him or not, his works have a place in art museums. What does not belong in an art museum are hordes of half-witted, imbecilic eco-extremists defacing and sullying the world’s art masterpieces.