Category: Museums

Australian Vandals Glue Picasso Painting

On Oct. 9, 2022, three extremists from Extinction Rebellion assailed a Picasso painting on display at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. It was the last day of the museum’s exhibit The Picasso Century, which ran from June 10, 2022 to Oct. 9, 2022. The show featured 80 works by Picasso and 100 artworks from contemporaries like Henri Matisse, Salvador Dalí, Natalia Goncharova, and dozens more.

The Aussie vandals, wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with Extinction Rebellion logos, approached Pablo Picasso’s antiwar painting Massacre in Korea. They placed a large black banner beneath the painting that read: “Extinction Rebellion: Climate Chaos = War + Famine.” Then two of the eco-extremists, a 49-year-old woman and a 59-year-old man, poured superglue on the palms of their hands and glued themselves to the “perspex” glass shield that protects the painting.

Extinction Rebellion vandals glue themselves to glass shield protecting Pablo Picasso’s 1951 painting “Massacre in Korea.” Photo: Extinction Rebellion

After ranting and raving about the end of the world for nearly an hour, the police safely removed the glued hands of the two grumblers from the glass. The two were arrested but later released “pending further inquiries.” What exactly does releasing these scoundrels accomplish?

Museums employ hired personnel to protect and safeguard artworks on display. I can’t tell you how many times museum guards have insisted that I step away from a painting. As an artist I move in close to examine and study an artist’s technique, but I always comply with such requests because they are reasonable and necessary. I’ve talked to many a museum guard, and their biggest complaint is that people young and old always try to touch the artworks, and most museum works are not protected by glass or plexiglass shields.

Extinction Rebellion, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the police, all said Picasso’s painting was not damaged. But these days environmentalists are attacking museum paintings as a way of protesting climate change; artworks have been physically damaged in these actions. Is the public at large required to keep their distance from museum artworks, but environmentalists are given a pass to glue their filthy hands to an artwork because of a “noble cause”?

The less done to discourage vandalizing art today, the greater the number of artworks desecrated tomorrow. In Sept. of 2022 I wrote about the ongoing eco-extremist war on art. Started in the UK by the “Just Stop Oil” group of ecologists, like-minded eco-radicals in Italy, Germany, and now Australia have joined the crusade to combat climate change by shutting down art museums and glueing themselves to well-known works of art. Extinction Rebellion was also founded in the UK and is politically allied with Just Stop Oil.

There’s another aspect to normalizing the trashing of art as political “protest.” Picasso’s Massacre in Korea was on loan from the Musée Picasso in Paris, France. Many works in The Picasso Century exhibit were on loan from museums. Massacre in Korea is worth $280 million. Why should museums loan their works to venues that cannot guarantee a safe, secure exhibit space; some ding-a-ling might glue their buttocks to a masterpiece! If glue-ins in museums continue to be tolerated then museums will simply stop loaning artworks.

Which means Extinction Rebellion and groups like them are denying people access to culture. So, who are the fascists now?

Left: Extinction Rebellion hourglass logo. Right: Black widow spider hourglass marking

The Extinction Rebellion logo is a double triangle; it supposedly represents an hourglass.

The message behind the symbol is—time is running out for the human race, and all life on earth will soon end because of climate change.

Sorry, but the group should have designed a better logo. All I see is the hourglass mark found on the abdomen of the poisonous black widow spider. Then again… that’s an appropriate symbol for a fanatical cult. Hey, Extinction Rebellion, Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole… not like you!

Pablo Picasso painted Massacre in Korea in 1951 while that bloody conflict was well underway. The painting has been seen as a statement against “American atrocities,” but interestingly enough there’s nothing about the soldiers lined up to slaughter innocents that reveals national identity. The troops depicted don’t wear US Army uniforms or carry US weaponry, in fact they seem like medieval knights wearing helmets and carrying swords and pikes.

Picasso purportedly based his painting on the 1950 massacre at Sinchon, a mass killing of civilians at a village of the same name. The North Korean communists say the US military was responsible for slaying 35,000 civilians in and around the village, but the facts regarding guilt for Sinchon were never open-and-shut like those surrounding the 1968 My Lai Massacre in Vietnam.

Picasso’s Massacre in Korea echoes two famous paintings that deal with political violence. One was The Third of May, painted by Francisco Goya in 1808. The other, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, was painted by French painter Édouard Manet in 1867. These two canvases were based on hair-raising historic events of intrigue and betrayal; I invite the reader to do some research on the background stories.

The composition of The Third of May, The Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and Massacre in Korea might be similar, but the emotional impact is not the same. Picasso’s effort may or may not form a triad with Goya and Manet on the theme of “man’s inhumanity to man,” but my heart remains true to Francisco Goya, who somehow managed to put the viewer in the midst of the poor souls about to be shot down.

“Massacre in Korea.” Pablo Picasso. Oil painting on plywood. 1951.

When Picasso painted Massacre in Korea he was a member of the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Français, PCF), which he joined in 1944. However, the Stalinist PCF was highly critical of Massacre, since it was far afield of the “socialist realism” demanded by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Picasso never left the PCF, but he remained an obstinate wildcard amongst the reds. Referring to the PCF he allegedly told French artist, novelist, and poet Jean Cocteau: “I have joined a family, and like all families, it’s full of shit.”

As for Extinction Rebellion’s slogan of “Climate Chaos = War + Famine.” The Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1953, had absolutely nothing to do with climate change. The nations who fought the war—the United States, South and North Korea, Communist China and the Soviet Union, engaged in the conflict for geo-political reasons.

Famine plagued North Korea from 1994 to 1998, and that had nothing to do with climate change. At least 600,000 starved to death and many others suffered malnutrition, not because of “climate chaos,” but because of horrible decisions made by the North Korean communist regime.

Likewise, a terrible famine struck Ukraine in 1932, millions of Ukrainians starved to death. But the famine was not caused by climate change, it was man-made; the policies of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin led to the Holodomor, causing nearly 4 million Ukrainians to die of starvation.

As I write, Russia and the US are fighting a proxy war in Ukraine, the battle may well turn into WW3. The Biden administration is deeply involved in the conflict, having sent Ukraine $66 billion in lethal weapons… so far. I guess the decades long bloodbath in Iraq and Afghanistan taught us nothing. But Russia isn’t Afghanistan; it possesses more nuclear warheads than any country on earth.

The peace movement in the US went to sleep long ago, narcotized by democratic party fairy tales. Europe, without Russia’s oil and natural gas, will freeze this winter. No peace talks are taking place; everyone involved—the US, NATO, EU, Ukraine, and Russia… fan the flames of war. The nuclear sword of Damocles hangs above our heads. And “climate chaos” has nothing to do it.

But what does Extinction Rebellion do in the face of impending world war? Why of course… they glue their hands to a Picasso painting!

Jan Vermeer and the Milkmaid Secret

In my childhood a large framed reproduction of the painting The Milkmaid hung in my family’s humble working class abode; the original painting was by the famed Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). Even as a child I was infatuated by the image; it was one of the first artworks by an Old Master painter I had been exposed to. I credit the Vermeer painting for being one of the artworks that made me want to become an artist. Never underestimate the power of art.

“The Milkmaid.” Johannes Vermeer, oil on canvas. Circa 1660. Credit: Rijksmuseum.

Having admired that particular Vermeer all my life, in Sept. 2022 I learned of a centuries long secret regarding the Milkmaid painting. That was when the Rijksmuseum—also known as the Dutch National Museum, announced the results of a high-tech scan of the painting.

The scan revealed the under-painting beneath the completed work; it was a painted sketch of the Milkmaid and the room in which she worked, brushed on with black oil paint—likely thinned with turpentine. Vermeer mixed white with the wet black to produce tones from dark to light gray.

This allowed him to model the Milkmaid figure as well as the objects in the room. Once the underpainting had dried Vermeer painted over it with colors to create the finished work. The black underpainting appears blue in the scan.

SWIR scan of Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid.” Credit: Rijksmuseum.

The big discovery from the scan was that Vermeer painted two common items from the period, placing them directly behind the woman pouring milk from a jug. It is surmised the artist thought the composition too distracting, and wanting to focus on the Milkmaid he painted over these things.

One item was a wooden jug holder—a shelf with pegs placed on its underside where jugs were hung; this was painted directly behind the women’s head. The other item shown at bottom right was a woven willow “fire basket.” Made to hold a small bowl filled with embers it could cradle an infant to keep it warm, or serve to dry laundered fabrics. After Vermeer’s death his household items were inventoried and a wooden jug holder and fire basket were among them.

The discovery of the under-painting knocks down two arguments about Vermeer’s work made his detractors; that he didn’t make under-paintings, and that he didn’t make corrections to his paintings while in the process of creating them. The Milkmaid scan not only proves that Vermeer made under-paintings, which was the standard for painters of his day, but it shows he questioned his composition and moved to correct it as he painted.

Milkmaid was scanned with Macro-XRF and RIS technologies, but the breakthrough came with the use of SWIR scanners. SWIR or Short Wavelength Infrared, provides a new type of material analysis. It delivers clear photos taken through glass, rainstorms, and heavy cloud cover; as a result it’s used in defense and security industries. Combined with other technologies SWIR makes possible face recognition scans for the identification and tracking of individuals (I love Big Brother). Thankfully someone discovered SWIR could be given the harmless and benevolent task of scrutinizing time-honored classical paintings.

“The Milkmaid” undergoing SWIR scanning. Credit: Rijksmuseum.

Along with The Milkmaid a number of Vermeer’s paintings underwent SWIR scanning with the assistance of the Mauritshuis art museum in The Hague, Netherlands. The high-tech exams were made before the launch of a major exhibition of Vermeer’s paintings scheduled for 2023.

Vermeer was only 43 when he died. Astonishingly, the entire output of his short career was only 35 paintings; but they were glorious, and all have been verified to be his creations. Vermeer left us no sketches, drawings, studies, or prints.

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum museum website has a marvelously detailed presentation on The Milkmaid and Vermeer. Replete with the museum’s informative video presentation featuring conservator and researcher Anna Krekeler, and a page where you can download the infrared scans of the painting, it is the destination for anyone interested in Jan Vermeer.

The Rijksmuseum will host the aforementioned 2023 exhibition of Vermeer’s paintings from Feb. 10, 2023 to June 4, 2023. It will be the largest exhibit of Vermeer paintings in history, and most of his paintings will be on display. Now, if the Rijksmuseum can only keep the members of Just Stop Oil from attending.

The Eco-Extremist War on Art

Just Stop Oil logo

A faction of the environmentalist movement has developed new plans for combating climate change. They’ve decided that disrupting art institutions with acts of “civil resistance” is a path to a sustainable future. The actions these “activists” engage in consists of spray-painting anti-oil graffiti on museum property and gluing themselves to the frames of masterpiece oil paintings. Few things describe cultural collapse like eco-extremists sacking classical Western art.

In Feb 2022 the “Just Stop Oil” faction was founded in the UK. They seem responsible for devising the tactic of assailing art museums and galleries to stop the UK Government from using and advancing fossil fuel. As a stratagem it is irrational and menacing; the faction launched anti-art actions against museums in the UK starting in June 2022. Allied groups like “Last Generation” followed suit by activating cells in Italy (Ultima Generazione) and Germany (Letzte Generation).

It is difficult to find a chronology of the eco-extremist war on art. Corporate media giants and the so-called art press have mostly been silent; let’s not forget the leftwing dictum, “silence is violence.” Consider this article a compendium. It preserves the history of anti-art deeds while providing a groundwork for research. I’ve arranged the examples by date, the most recent appear at the top of this article, with the oldest at the bottom.

“Massacre of the Innocents.” Peter Paul Rubens. Oil on canvas. 1638. Photo: José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro.

On Aug. 26, 2022, two members of the German group Letzte Generation (Last Generation), invaded the Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich and superglued their hands to the antique frame of the 1638 oil painting Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens. The painting depicts the biblical story of Herod, King of Judea, who was visited by the Three Magi seeking “the one who has been born king of the Jews.” Fearing a competing king, Herod ordered the killing of all male children in Bethlehem who were two years old or under.

Vandals from Letzte Generation (Last Generation) glue themselves to frame of Rubens painting.

Letzte Generation twisted the story to fit their apocalyptic climate collapse agenda. They released a statement that read in part: “Climate Catastrophe is as visible as the knives of King Herod’s child-murdering soldiers. In the painting, infants are torn from their mothers and bloodily murdered on King Herod’s orders. The Climate Catastrophe affects everyone elementarily and may lead to war, which would also destroy art.”

Bernhard Maaz, Director General of the Bavarian State Painting Collections, denounced the eco-vandals: “It is not legitimate to damage unique cultural evidence of humanity in order to point out the actual climatic problems.” Police detained the two extremists and charged them with property damage.

On Aug. 25, 2022, two members of the Letzte Generation group invaded the Gemäldegalerie (Painting Gallery) of Berlin. They superglued their hands to the frame of Rest on the Flight into Egypt, an oil painting by German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). Cranach was a leading printmaker and painter who followed Martin Luther, the priest who in 1517 nailed his theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg in protest of selling papal indulgences. That act set off a public debate that sparked the Reformation. Cranach was thirty-two when he painted Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The painting depicts Mary with the Christ child standing on her knee as cherubs play music and frolic at Mary’s feet. Joseph stands in the background like a guard. The background is novel—it’s inspired by Germany’s forest lands.

The eco-extremists released a statement: “Mary, Joseph and Jesus were on their way to safe haven. Humanity, however, is on the fast track to deadly Climate Catastrophe.” The German Cultural Council (Deutscher Kulturrat), an umbrella group for cultural organizations, blasted the eco-extremists. The Council’s managing director Olaf Zimmerman said: “I say clearly that the act of gluing themselves to the frames of famous works of art is clearly wrong. The risk of damaging the artworks is very high. The works put in danger are part of world cultural heritage and deserve to be protected as well as our climate.” If only international media and art world elites would say as much.

“Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe.” Nicolas Poussin, oil on canvas. 1651.

On Aug. 24, 2022, two members of Letzte Generation invaded the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. They superglued their hands to the frame of the 1651 oil on canvas painting Thunderstorm with Pyramus and Thisbe by classical French Baroque painter Nicolas Poussin.

Letzte Generation members glue themselves to frame of Poussin painting.

Poussin based this painting on Metamorphoses, the magnum opus written by the Roman poet Ovid in 8 AD. One of the tales the poet told was the tragic love story of Pyramus and Thisbe. The lovers, forbidden to wed by their parents, agreed to a secret meeting by a tree. Thisbe arrived first but fled when she saw a lioness bloody from a fresh kill; as Thisbe escaped she dropped her cloak. The lioness pawed the cloak leaving it bloody. When Pyramus turned up he found the bloody cloak and concluded a wild beast had devoured his love, so he killed himself with his sword. Thisbe returned, found her lover dead, and in her grief killed herself with the same sword.

Letzte Generation philistines contorted the theme of Poussin’s painting to fit their cult agenda; their statement read: “Today the picture is symbolic of the destructive course of current politics: it shows Pyramus lying on the ground, next to him a sword with which he threw himself to his death based on erroneous assumptions. Just as Pyramus made false assumptions, our government is also making false assumptions that will lead our societies to collapse.”

“The Sistine Madonna.” Raphael, oil painting on canvas, circa 1512.

On Aug. 23, 2022, two members of Letzte Generation entered the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) in Dresden, Germany. They assailed the painting The Sistine Madonna.

Created by Renaissance artist Raphael in the years 1512 to 1513, it is one of Europe’s most famous Christian altarpieces. The extremists stepped over the small rope barricade disallowing viewers from getting too close to the painting, and superglued their hands to the painting’s elaborate antique frame. Authorities said the painting was unharmed but its frame was damaged. Police arrested the vandals.

Pope Julius, who served from 1503 to 1513, commissioned Raphael to create the altarpiece for the church of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy. That church venerated the martyrs Pope Sixtus II and Saint Barbara. Pope Sixtus II was bishop of Rome when Roman Emperor Valerian ordered all Christian bishops, priests, and deacons executed; Sixtus was the first to be martyred on August 6, 258. Saint Barbara was an early Christian in the city of Heliopolis, Phoenicia (now Syria and Lebanon). She was executed by pagans in 200 AD for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

Letzte Generation vandals glued to the frame of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna.”

In his altarpiece Raphael painted the Madonna carrying the Christ child into the world; behind Mary the faces of cherubs make up the clouds. Pope Sixtus II is pictured on the left, Saint Barbara is on the right. At the bottom of the painting Raphael painted two cherubs; the two are likely the most reproduced cherubim in Western art history. 

Twisting the altarpiece into the new religion of environmentalism, Letzte Generation issued a statement that said: “Mary and Jesus look to the future with fear. They look forward to Christ’s death on the cross. An equally predictable death will also be the result of the climate collapse.”

The Letzte Generation website posted a headline describing their attack on Raphael’s painting, it read “Stuck to Painting – Resistance to Sistine Madonna.” I’m far from being a Christian theologist but these fanatics just alienated every Christian on the planet. Resistance to the Mother of Christ stops climate change?

“Laocoön and his Sons.” Grecian marble statue, circa 200 BC.

On August 22, 2022, three members of Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) invaded the Vatican Museums located on the grounds of Vatican City in Rome, Italy. Two used superglue to cement their hands to the marble base supporting the Greek marble statue, Laocoön and his Sons. The third extremist unfurled a banner that read when translated from Italian: “Last Generation—No Gas and No Coal.” The sculpture was created around 200 BC by three eminent artists from Rhodes, Greece. Their names were Agesander, Polydorus, and Athenodorus.

I once visited the Vatican Museums, they are comprised of twenty-four separate galleries with various collections; the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s murals is one of the galleries. Walking from gallery to gallery I soon stood all alone before the long suffering marble giant Laocoön and his tormented sons Antiphantes and Thymbraeus. We must have conversed on the subject of affliction without hope of redemption for at least an hour.

Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) glue themselves to Laocoön statue.

For years in my mind’s eye I imagined those biting serpents sent by the gods, torturing the ill-fated trio. Now I see something much more horrendous… blank-eyed, muddleheaded lowbrows grasping at an ancient marble wonder with superglue soaked hands.

On Aug. 21, 2022, four Ultima Generazione cadre entered the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, where world-renowned murals by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337) are a major tourist attraction. Putting aside their usual tricks of spray-paint and superglue, the eco-extremists tried a new tactic. They came with lengths of heavy duty steel chain and padlocks without keys.

Two members each wrapped a length of chain around their waists and locked it in place with a padlock, the other end of the chains were locked to the metal guardrail keeping viewers from Giotto’s murals. The cult members then read a prepared script about fossil fuel causing the end of the world, while the other two cultists filmed the stunt. Police arrived with a bolt cutter designed to cut chain, they removed the shackles and carted the zealots off to jail. It was a lackluster “protest” for saving the earth. Still, I can’t help but think that leaving the extremists locked up in chains and securely fastened to the metal balustrade, should have been their punishment.

Giotto murals in the Scrovegni Chapel.

Giotto covered the interior of Scrovegni Chapel with murals depicting the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. From 1303 to 1310 he painted a total of 39 dazzling mural scenes. They were commissioned by a banker named Scrovegni, who was responsible for building of the Chapel.

A brilliant artist, Giotto was of the Gothic world, but his naturalism heralded the coming Renaissance. In 2021 the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), proclaimed Padua’s 14th-century fresco murals, including Giotto’s at the Scrovegni Chapel, to be of “outstanding universal value” and part of UNESCOs heritage sites. None of that mattered to the extremists of Ultima Generazione.

“La Primavera.” Sandro Botticelli, tempera on wood, circa 1477-1482.

On July 22, 2022, three members of Ultima Generazione entered the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. They assailed La Primavera (Spring), a famous tempera on wood painting created circa 1477-1482 by Sandro Botticelli. One extremist unfurled a banner reading “Ultima Generazione—No Gas and No Coal,” as two others each glued their hands to the heavy glass shield protecting the painting. Spring is paired with Botticelli’s tempera on canvas painting Birth of Venus, created by the artist in 1485; both works hang in the same room and are thankfully protected by glass shielding.

Ultima Generazione members glued themselves to the glass shielding protecting Botticelli’s “La Primavera.”

Dozens of museum goers watched passively as the vandals mounted their assault. Not a single person moved to defend the masterwork, save for an alert security guard who was undoubtably aware that Just Stop Oil had previously damaged a John Constable painting in the National Gallery of London (details later in this article). Before the glue dried on the glass the guard pulled the two vandals away from the painting, tossed them on the floor, dragged them away from the area and arrested them. The three vandals were taken to a police station and given orders to stay out of Florence for three years. My verdict would have been harsher.

Ultima Generazione released a statement in which they asked: “Is it possible to see a spring as beautiful as this today?” A ridiculous question, though the answer is yes… you can see as wondrous a spring nowadays. Despite the fatalism of the extremists our planet is still a beautiful place. But one wonders, why does their critique stop at the Western world? Today the most polluted cities on earth are not in the US, the UK, or Europe, they are in China, Pakistan, and India. China is building more than three times the number of coal power plants than exist in all of the nations of the world combined. Yet the eco-extremists are silent.

In 2001 president Bill Clinton made possible China’s entry into the World Trade Organization; it was thought the WTO would reform China’s communist regime, moving it towards democracy. See how well that worked? US factories producing all types of goods began moving to China for its low-wage workers. 42,400 manufacturing plants closed in the US from 2001 to 2009; the great majority never reopened in the US. Some 2.3 million American factory workers lost their jobs. Today China makes the windmills and batteries for electric vehicles needed by Americans and Europeans. But don’t worry, eco-extremists have the answer—disrupt Western art museums!

In a statement Ultima Generazione said they “decided to use art to sound an alarm call: we are heading towards social and eco-climate collapse.” Their Uffizi outburst was the start of “a new season of actions” targeting museums. First of all they are not using art, they are abusing it. If they possessed artistic skill they might have created their own art, but they’re only capable of gluing themselves to the frames of masterpiece paintings. They drag us all into the new dark ages.

I visited the Uffizi as a young artist in 1972 and stood awestruck before Spring and the Birth of Venus. I bought a large print of Spring from the Uffizi, it still hangs in my home today. I was amazed at how Botticelli used gold-leaf in Birth of Venus, every green leaf is outlined with it, it’s also found in the wings of the wind gods Zephyr and Aura the artist depicted in the painting. Botticelli had a huge influence upon me as a young artist, it saddens me that the eco-extremists can only imagine Botticelli’s work as a prop in a propaganda stunt.

Just Stop Oil vandals glue themselves to the frame around “The Last Supper” copy by Giampietrino.

On July 5, 2022 five vandals from Just Stop Oil targeted a copy of The Last Supper located at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. The copy was painted circa 1515 by Giampietrino and perhaps by Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio, both students of Leonardo Da Vinci. Before all five eco-extremists glued themselves to the frame of the huge painting, they spray-painted “No New Oil” on the wall beneath it. The police arrested all five for criminal damage. Members of Just Stop Oil often spray-paint the walls and floors of museums during their actions.

Spray-paints contain solvents associated with paint thinners. I can’t imagine spraying solvent aerosols anywhere near historic paintings! Despite their high-mindedness, or is that “hive-mindedness,” these bughouse environmentalists don’t care about the harm they bring about… they have a higher cause.

The group targeted The Last Supper because they believe fossil fuel will cause global temperatures to rise, with a global food crisis resulting (Get it? Christ’s last meal). My guess is the extremists haven’t heard petroleum is a main component of petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, without which the global population would likely starve. Then again, maybe Just Stop Oil is hoping for a radical population reduction. Here’s another conundrum. All methods of transport that deliver food to population centers, trucks, airplanes, trains, cargo ship freighters, are reliant upon, not wind power, but fossil fuel.

Don’t expect the brainiacs of Just Stop Oil to find an alternative, they’re stuck on wind and solar power as the answer to our energy problems. Incidentally, the American Eagle Foundation reported that in 2013 an estimated 573,000 birds were killed in the US by wind turbines—and that was before the craze to build multi-acre wind farms. In April 2022 news agencies reported a single US provider of wind power pleaded guilty to its wind turbines killing upwards of 150 American eagles on its renewable energy wind farms. That’s the future of wind power… the extinction of the Golden and Bald Eagles. How apropos.

“The Hay Wain.” John Constable, oil on canvas, 1821.

On July 4, 2022 two members of Just Stop Oil invaded the National Gallery in London and beset the 1821 oil painting The Hay Wain by John Constable (1776-1837). The landscape depicts the countryside between Suffolk and Essex. Three horses are pulling a hay wain (a cart meant to carry hay) across a millpond on the river Stour. On the horizon farmers harvest hay. Lost in the rushes on the right is a man with a fishing pole, his boat moored to the shore; ducks placidly swim in the gentle river. On the left is the Cottage home of tenant farmer Willy Lott, which still stands today, now owned by the National Trust.

Just Stop Oil vandals glue a photomontage directly onto the surface of Constable’s painting.

Before their raid the vandals used a digital application to create a photomontage, in their words it depicted a “nightmare scene that shows how oil will destroy our countryside.” The vandals had measured the internal dimensions of the frame around Constable’s painting, making sure a print of their montage would fit the space. The montage was printed-out on three separate sheets of paper that when placed together side-by-side created the complete image. As banal as today’s street art, the montage switched out the river for an asphalt road. An old washing machine filled the hay wain, a junk car sat in front of the old Cottage, and the trees were dead. The farmers were replaced with industrial buildings belching pollution. Commercial jets filled the sky.

Horror of horrors, the goons applied adhesive to the back of their printouts and glued them directly onto the Constable painting! The two vandals then sat beneath the painting and glued their hands to the picture frame. Together they recited the reasons for their actions and were eventually arrested. The National Gallery later said glue had caused damage to the artwork’s antique frame, more importantly it created limited damage to the varnished surface of the painting.

“Thomson’s Aeolian Harp.” JMW Turner, oil on canvas. 1809.

On July 1, 2022, two members of Just Stop Oil invaded the Manchester Art Gallery and descended upon Thomson’s Aeolian Harp, an oil painting by JMW Turner (1775-1851). On the parquet flooring beneath the painting the hoodlums spray-painted in purple “No New Oil.” Next to that they spray-painted in orange a death’s head—the logo for Just Stop Oil (a skull is the perfect icon for the group). The two vandals then glued one of their hands to the painting’s frame. They were arrested for their criminal acts.

Vandals graffiti the floor and glue themselves to frame of Turner’s “Thomson’s Aeolian Harp.”

Turner’s 1809 Thomson’s Aeolian Harp celebrated the Scottish poet James Thomson (1700-1748), who wrote the poem An Ode to Aeolus’ Harp. In Greek mythology Aeolus was the King of Wind, and the ancient Greeks created aeolian harps made of wood and gut strings that were played by the wind.

In the 1600’s Europeans rediscovered the aeolian harp and by the end of the 18th century the curious harp became popular in the Romantic era. A number of poets wrote about the harp and its ethereal sounds. Polish pianist Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849) wrote the composition Etude Op.25 No.1 Aeolian Harp.

Thomson’s Aeolian Harp was unlike Turner’s richly colored atmospheric and gossamer-like paintings of his later years, works like the 1834 oil painting The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons. Turner painted the fiery scene after he witnessed the UK Parliament burning. By comparison Aeolian Harp was almost an example of art from the French Academie. Its background depicts the River Thames while the foreground presents a group of women in 18th century dress dancing around an aeolian harp sitting on a pedestal. Too small to see in this essay’s illustration, Turner painted a name carved into the pedestal’s base, ”Thomson,” a visual eulogy to the late poet.

“Aeolian Harp” detail. a group of women in 18th century dress dancing around an aeolian harp sitting on a pedestal.

While glued to the painting’s frame, 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: “By refusing to use its power and influence to help end this madness, the art establishment is complicit in genocide. Directors of art institutions should be calling on the government to stop all new oil and gas projects immediately.” 

It must be noted that the Manchester opened a wing called the Climate Justice Gallery, where they display enough politically correct art to choke an entire herd of methane gas producing cows. The gallery also launched a program called CLIMAVORE. In their words: “This long-term project is changing the food offering across cultural institutions with dishes using ingredients that address the climate emergency.” None of this matters to Just Stop Oil, who regard the Manchester Art Gallery as an institution “complicit in genocide.”

“Peach Trees in Blossom.” Vincent van Gogh, oil on canvas. 1889.

On June 30, 2022 three members of Just Stop Oil invaded the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Two members glued the palms of their hands to the antique wooden picture frame holding Peach Trees in Blossom, an oil painting created in 1889 by Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). The extremists targeted Van Gogh’s landscape of Arles in France because, they insist, the land in the painting will soon be completely devastated by climate change.

Just Stop Oil vandals glued to the frame of Vincent’s painting.

While glued to the frame of the painting one of the extremists told the media: “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 other delinquent added: “Artists and the art establishment are failing us by focusing on the wrong things. We need everyone to focus on the government’s genocidal plans to allow fossil fuel companies to drill for more oil. This is one of the greatest injustices in history. We must resist.”

So artists are focusing on the wrong things are they? Well I hope they continue to focus on the wrong things, just as they always have done. Nevertheless, the vandals who assailed the Van Gogh were charged with having caused £2,200 ($2,583) worth of damage to the painting’s frame. Their trial takes Nov. 22, 2022.

“My Heart’s In The Homeland.” Horatio McCulloch, oil on canvas. 1860.

On June 29th, 2022, three Just Stop Oil vandals invaded the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland. Wearing “Just Stop Oil” T-shirts they used stencils and spray-paint to graffiti the group’s name on the wall and floor of the museum. Afterwards two glued the palms of their hands to the antique frame around the oil painting My Heart’s In The Homeland, created in 1860 by one of Scotland’s greatest painters, Horatio McCulloch (1805-1867).

Just Stop Oil vandals spray-paint graffiti on museum walls before gluing themselves to the frame of McCulloch’s painting.

Two of the vandals were art students, which tells you a lot about today’s art schools. One ineloquently said of the group’s actions:

“By doing this we bring attention by targeting cultural artifacts, we bring attention to the issue because people will see this and then they’ll get angry but then maybe they’ll think about why they’re angry and why we’re doing this and how things got to this point” (she could write speeches for Kamala Harris). That student and her cohorts want you to think the world is ending because of oil drilling, and the best way to alert the public is by… targeting cultural artifacts. Maybe a good, sensible book burning comes next?

The other vandal involved in the gluing rebuked Horatio McCulloch as a class enemy. She noted that he painted his landscape in 1860, “when whole crofting communities (small land tenants) were evicted by a new class of landlords ruthlessly pursuing their own private interests. It was only when crofters (tenant farmers) organized and resisted that they won rights (…) we must learn from the history of Scottish crofters on how to fight back effectively.” Evidently “fight back” now means “trash museums.” All five zealots were arrested at the Kelvingrove for their reckless behavior.

Just Stop Oil’s July 8, 2022 tweet. A call for attacking art: “The Suffragettes slashed paintings for the right to vote. Just Stop Oil.”

Of course Just Stop Oil’s twitter account promotes vandalism and attacking art. Take their July 8, 2022 tweet for example; it starts with a statement about climate change “destroying our only home” and ends with a call to pillage art: “The Suffragettes slashed paintings for the right to vote. Just Stop Oil.”

The anti-art tweet featured an unidentified painting, it was the Rokeby Venus by Spanish artist Velázquez. On March 10, 1914 the Rokeby Venus was slashed 5 times with a meat cleaver by a suffragette named Mary Richardson, or “Slasher Mary” as she came to be known.

Her act was retaliation for the UK government’s 1913 arrest, trial, and conviction of leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who had taken credit for the bombing of the summer home of David Lloyd George, head of Her Majesty’s Treasury and future Prime Minister of the UK. Pankhurst founded the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and its members reacted violently to her jailing.

Slasher Mary Richardson explained her cleaving the Rokeby Venus by saying: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as color and outline on canvas.” Slasher Mary was given the maximum sentence for destroying an artwork, six months imprisonment.

“Venus at her Mirror” or in the original Spanish, La Venus del Espejo. Velázquez, oil on canvas. Circa 1647.

The Rokeby Venus, painted around 1647, portrays the Roman goddess of beauty and love named Venus. In the painting she looks into a mirror held by her son Cupid, god of erotic love. Scholar and art lover John Morrit purchased the canvas in 1813 for £500 (around $600). He wanted it for his home in Rokeby Park, Yorkshire; ever since it’s been known as the Rokeby Venus, despite originally being titled La Venus del Espejo by Velázquez.

In 1906 the Rokeby Venus became part of London’s National Gallery collection, and housed there ever since. Thankfully after Slasher Mary did her dirty work, the painting was restored by Helmut Ruhemann. In 1933 the Nazis took power and Ruhemann was fired from the Kaiser Fredrich Museum in Berlin because he was Jewish. Fearing for his life he left Germany in ’33 and moved to the UK where he began work as Art Restorer for the National Gallery in 1934—a position he held until 1972. It’s difficult to verify but it appears Ruhemann restored the Rokeby Venus in 1934; at any rate he’s credited with the restoration. There is irony in Ruhemann’s story. In ’33 he fled the Nazis for the UK and ended up restoring a painting ruined by suffragette Mary Richardson—who in ’33 joined the largest pro-Hitler organization in England, the British Union of Fascists.

On May 16, 1913 the Crawfordsville Review newspaper of Indiana covered the story of suffragettes planting a dynamite bomb on the grounds of London’s National Art Gallery.

Just Stop Oil praised Mary Richardson for slashing the Rokeby Venus yet forgot to mention she later joined the British Union of Fascists, and she moved up the ranks to became the Chief Organizer of that party’s Women’s Section.

Today the suffragettes are seen as reformers who worked for the right of women to vote. Forgotten is the military blitz carried out by the Women’s Social and Political Union. Between 1913 and 1914 they carried out hundreds of bombing and arson attacks, 5 people were killed and some 24 were injured; today we call this terrorism. The first bombing in Ireland wasn’t carried out by the Irish Republican Army, it was executed by four WSPU members who bombed the Christ Church Cathedral in Lisburn, Ireland on July 31, 1914.

Just Stop Oil deceitfully glorifies Richardson for vandalizing art while keeping secret her membership in the British Union of Fascists. Cheering for suffragettes who attacked paintings is one thing, but what will the eco-extremists do when their acts of “civil resistance” fail to bring victory? Will they expand their campaign to include the violence once used by their suffragette superheroes? After all, Just Stop Oil claims to be combating government plans for genocide.

Some final remarks. Let me correct a fallacy regarding oil painting, it is not based on petroleum products. Oil paints are made from mineral pigments ground up and mixed with linseed oil—which is pressed from the seeds of flax plants. Turpentine, used to thin oil paints, is distilled from tree resin. The oil industry began in earnest in the early 20th century. Who thinks Rembrandt created his works with paint provided by the petroleum industry? I’ll give you a hint. Years ago in an online art forum environmentalists assailed me for causing climate collapse because I use “oil paints.” 

Who funds Just Stop Oil? In April 2022 the Guardian reported the extremists “received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Los Angeles-based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF).” CEF’s executive director was quoted saying this about Just Stop Oil: “We’re their lead institutional funder, I think actually their exclusive institutional funder at this point.” In Aug. 2022 the New York Times filed a similar report saying the faction received close to $1 million from CEF to pay the salaries of 40 organizers. So who funds the CEF? The Guardian and the NYT said heirs from the Getty and Rockefeller families—who made untold billions from their holdings in the global petroleum industry, are top funders. Keep that in mind when pondering eco-extremists vandalizing museums and their art treasures.

I knew we were in trouble in 1989 when I viewed Tim Burton’s Batman in a movie theater. Jack Nicholson played the Joker, and in one scene Joker led his goons into Gotham City Museum to destroy its collection of masterpiece paintings. The gang spray-painted doodles on the canvases, and threw buckets of wet paint onto the works of Degas, Renoir, and other renowned artists.

However, the film’s nihilistic museum frolic didn’t upset me as much as the audience reaction. When seeing works of art busted-up, graffitied, and splashed with paint… the moviegoers roared with laughter. I never forgot that laughter, it was enthusiastic approval for the destruction of art.

____________

UPDATE: Deutsche Welle reported on Nov. 24, 2022 that dozens of police officers conducted raids on the homes of Letzte Generation members in Saxony, concerning eco-extremist attacks on Rafael’s Sistine Madonna painting in Dresden’s Old Masters Gallery. Three eco-extremists are charged with “damage to property.” The Old Masters Gallery put their overall financial losses from the attack at €12,000 ($12,482.04 US dollars). Around 60 police officers also conducted raids in Leipzig searching for evidence of criminal vandalism committed by Letzte Generation.

The Rise and Fall of LACMA

"Ahmanson Annulled." What was left of the top floor of the four-story Ahmanson Gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) once the wrecking crane was finished on May 13, 2020. Photo Mark Vallen ©.

"Ahmanson Annulled." What was left of the top floor of the four-story Ahmanson Gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) when the wrecking crane was finished on May 13, 2020. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

As a Los Angeles born artist, the tale of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is a personal story for me; I’m actually older than the museum. My anecdotes will offer a glimpse of its glory days, and my photo essay will depict its inevitable physical destruction under its Director and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Govan. Mr. Govan decided to demolish the old LACMA, and so commissioned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor to design a new LACMA. The price of this unnecessary project? A purported $750 million dollars.

Over the decades I attended countless exhibits at LACMA, and spent innumerable hours wandering though the museum’s halls, sketching, studying, drinking it all in. The following are but a few of the exhibits that not only inspired me, but impacted the wider community of Los Angeles and beyond.

"Headed for Oblivion." The Art of the Americas building faced Wilshire Blvd and housed American, Latin American, and pre-Columbian art. Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 9 2020.

"Headed for Oblivion." The Art of the Americas building faced Wilshire Blvd and housed American, Latin American, and pre-Columbian art. Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 9 2020.

In April 1965 I was a budding 12-year-old artist dabbling in oil painting when my working class parents took me to Wilshire Boulevard for the grand opening of LACMA. It was an event never to be forgotten. Designed by William Pereira, the museum complex was surrounded by a man-made shimmering lagoon. The campus was evocative of Italy’s city of Venice, or the ancient Mexican Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan—itself a metropolis built on a lake and crisscrossed with canals, bridges, and waterways. Fireworks were set off over LACMA at the end of the festivities, and I marveled at the display mirrored in the museum’s reflecting pool.

Of course LACMA is built on land where crude oil, methane gas, and tar have bubbled up from beneath the ground for thousands of years, creating giant pools of oil and tar that are still active; an outstanding locale for an art museum. The land is also home to the landmark La Brea Tar Pits. By 1966 the tar and oil oozed into LACMA’s once sparkling lagoon, despoiling the ersatz Venice and eventually necessitating the draining and removal of the body of water. This unfortunate event can be seen as a metaphor for LACMA’s destiny.

"The Amazing Shrinking LACMA." View of the museum from Wilshire Blvd. on April 10, 2020. The Bing Theater had met its demise and in the background the Hammer Building, which displayed special exhibits, was being destroyed. The Art of the Americas building at left would soon be razed. Photo Mark Vallen ©.

"The Amazing Shrinking LACMA." View of museum from Wilshire Blvd., April 10, 2020. The Bing Theater had met its demise and in the background the Hammer Building, which displayed special exhibits, was being destroyed. The Art of the Americas building at left would soon be razed. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

In 1966 my mother took me to see the Edward Kienholz exhibit at LACMA, his “Back Seat Dodge” assemblage was sending polite society into a tizzy—the LA Board of Supervisors called it “blasphemous” and many wanted the offensive Dodge coupe removed. As a 13-year-old I was surprisingly well versed in DaDaism and Surrealism, but Kienholz drove home to me how art could inflame and provoke… well beyond my then adolescent dreams.

I was 23 when the United States celebrated its 1776-1976 Bicentennial. As part of that observance LACMA presented Two Centuries of Black American Art—the first survey of art by Black Americans held in the U.S. While it featured the work of 63 artists, it was the art of Charles White that truly captured my imagination. Because of his humanistic and poignant figurative realism, in particular his sensitive black and white drawings and lithographs, I always considered him to be a mentor; the LACMA exhibit poster for the show featuring a drawing by White remains in my collection.

"Bing Theater Crater." Facing the Wilshire Blvd side of the LACMA campus, the Bing Theater was the museum’s main venue for symposiums, performances, meetings, art classes, and cinema. It was demolished and most of its rubble bulldozed away by April 10 2020. Photo Mark Vallen ©.

"Bing Theater Crater." Facing the Wilshire Blvd side of the LACMA campus, the Bing Theater was the museum’s main venue for symposiums, performances, meetings, art classes, and cinema. It was demolished and most of its rubble bulldozed away by April 10 2020. Photo Mark Vallen ©.

I was 25 when I stood in line for hours to see Treasures of Tutankhamun (Feb. 15-June 15, 1978), the most well attended exhibit in LACMA’s entire history. 53 stunning artifacts from the tomb of the young Egyptian Pharaoh were on display, including his hauntingly beautiful burial mask. Some 1.2 million Angelenos viewed the show during its four month run.

At 33 years of age I attended the groundbreaking exhibit Impressionist to Early Modern Paintings From the U.S.S.R. (June 26-Aug. 12, 1986). I rejoiced in seeing works from the Hermitage and Pushkin museums; Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Picasso, and many others. I still have hanging in my home LACMA’s exhibit poster for the show that features Guaguin’s Aha Oe Feii (Are You Jealous?).

The exhibit was presented during the Cold War, when the U.S. and Soviets were slugging it out in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and beyond. Of the 40 paintings exhibited, 33 had never been seen in the United States. Given the political environment, it was a miracle the show happened at all. The Republican business magnate Armand Hammer (1898-1990), a trustee of LACMA with close ties to Soviet leaders, made possible the cultural exchange.

"More Art." Like so many other lies from the year 2020, the new LACMA will actually have 80% less gallery space, and no room for the exhibit of Permanent Collections, which will be stored offsite. In other words LACMA will offer "Less Art." Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 14 2020.

"More Art." Like so many other lies from the year 2020, the new LACMA will actually have 80% less gallery space, and no room for the exhibit of Permanent Collections, which will be stored offsite. In other words LACMA will offer "Less Art." Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 14 2020.

I was 38 when I viewed Degenerate art: the fate of the avant-garde in Nazi Germany, LACMA’s most scholarly—and dangerous exhibit (Feb. 17-May 12, 1991). It was a chilling recreation of the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) show mounted by the Nazis in 1937 Munich.

That year the Nazis banned and seized art they viewed as Jewish, communist or “anti-German”; the art was confiscated from museums, galleries, and private collections and derided as the product of insanity. It was then displayed in the Entartete Kunst exhibit. Art was purposely hung lopsided, lit poorly, and placed next to slogans painted on the walls reading “Nature as seen by sick minds,” “Madness becomes method,” and the like. When the exhibit run concluded the Nazis auctioned off what art they could, and destroyed the rest by fire.

All of this was recreated by LACMA. Remarkably, 175 surviving works from the original Nazi show were displayed. What’s more, they were shown with the same cockeyed hanging, pitiable lighting, and mocking wall slogans! The exhibit was a blistering curatorial denunciation of Nazi horror, but also a warning against totalitarian systems of culture and thought. Since then LACMA has never mounted such a formidable exhibit, and in these overly sensitive politically correct times, it likely won’t do so again.

"Door to Nowhere." A taped-off door at LACMA’s gutted Art of the Americas building, served as a forlorn message concerning the ill-fated museum. Photo Mark Vallen ©. April 10 2020.

"Door to Nowhere." A taped-off door at LACMA’s gutted Art of the Americas building, served as a forlorn message concerning the ill-fated museum. Photo Mark Vallen ©. April 10 2020.

I attended many other world-class exhibits at LACMA before the tenure of Michael Govan. The museum continued to be an invaluable cultural institution, until Mr. Govan took over as director in February of 2006. I always said he would destroy LACMA, but I had no idea that my dire premonitions would end up being an actual physical reality.

Govan became the perfect postmodern museum director, a promoter of kitsch, installation art, and conceptual art; someone at home in the circus world of vapid art stars and tasteless collectors. But instead of advocating the museum as an institution that acquires, conserves, and displays works of historic import and technical skill, he became a purveyor of the museum as citadel of entertainment and spectacle. And so Govan arranged the exhibitions Stanley Kubrick (Nov 1, 2012–Jun 30, 2013) and Tim Burton (May 29–Oct 31, 2011).

Ironically, Michael Govan’s ultimate contribution to LACMA might be his having molded the museum—according to a 2016 fluff piece by CNN, into the “World’s most Instagrammed museum.” Though even there it was put in 4th place.

"Gutted." The Art of the Americas building on the LACMA campus, facing Wilshire Blvd.—its interior metal parts gutted and bulldozed into a gigantic heap. Photo Mark Vallen ©. April 26 2020.

"Gutted." The Art of the Americas building on the LACMA campus, facing Wilshire Blvd.—its interior metal parts gutted and bulldozed into a gigantic heap. Photo Mark Vallen ©. April 26 2020.

I first felt something was awry when I discovered in 2007 that Michael Govan’s annual salary as Director of LACMA was $915,000—twice the amount of a sitting U.S. President ($400,000). Investigating further I found his actual compensation, after perks, was $1,029,921 per year. LACMA provided Govan with a free $5.6 million house in Hancock Park worth $155,000 a year, according to tax fillings. Clearly, the U.S. presidency with its formidable world-shaking powers, is insignificant when compared to the directorship of LACMA.

In 2007 Michael Govan and Jeff Koons, the “King of Kitsch,” announced their plans to erect a monumental public art “sculpture” by Koons in front of LACMA. Titled Train, it would be an actual 70-foot-long steam locomotive hung from a massive 161-foot heavy construction crane; three times a day the Choo Choo Train would blow its steam whistle and spin its wheels. Of course this would give the museum the look of an entertainment theme park, but Govan compared Train to the Eiffel Tower, saying he hoped it would become “a landmark for Los Angeles.”

The Koons Train project was estimated to cost $25 million, incredibly LACMA was awarded $1 million from the Annenberg Foundation to conduct a “feasibility study” on constructing the curio. Due to the collapsing economy of the Obama years, LACMA was unable—thankfully—to raise enough money to build the banal edifice. Heaven knows where the feasibility study money actually went.

"Dragon Lair." Like a dragon coming out of its lair, a bulldozer pops out of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to dump the guts of the museum in a pit of rubble. But in this tale there’s no Saint George to slay the beast. Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 14 2020.

"Dragon Lair." Like a dragon coming out of its lair, a bulldozer pops out of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, to dump the guts of the museum in a pit of rubble. But in this tale there’s no Saint George to slay the beast. Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 14 2020.

Also in 2007 Govan commissioned conceptual artist John Baldessari to design the gallery space for LACMA’s exhibit Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images (Nov 19-Mar 4, 2007). I always favored the Belgian Surrealist René Magritte, both for his technical skills as a realist painter and his playful wit. However, Baldessari’s scenography garnered more attention than Magritte’s sixty-eight paintings and drawings. And it didn’t help that Magritte’s beautiful oil paintings were surrounded by twaddle from collagist Barbara Kruger, plagiarist Richard Prince, and “works” from other postmodern whiz kids.

Next came a 2008 commission for a large-scale public artwork from performance and installation aesthete Chris Burden (1946-2015). He was best known for his 1971 Shoot performance piece, which involved an assistant shooting Burden in the arm at 15 feet with a .22 rifle. Naturally this hokum made Burden famous, the performance was celebrated as a reaction to nightly news reports on U.S. television regarding the Vietnam war. If so then Burden should have had himself shot with an M16 rifle with its more powerful 5.56mm round, that’s what U.S. troops used in Vietnam… but then, I’m an artistic purist.

"The Ruins." It was the most artful thing I'd seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in some time; made me think of that old Situationist slogan, "Playing in the ruins of tomorrow, today." Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

"The Ruins." It was the most artful thing I'd seen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in some time; made me think of that old Situationist slogan, "Playing in the ruins of tomorrow, today." Photograph by Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

Chris Burden’s commissioned piece turned out to be Urban Light, a grid of 202 antique metal street lights that once illuminated the avenues of Los Angeles in the 1920s and ’30s. A contractor sanded the columns, painted them grey, capped them with period glass globes, wired them, then raised the street lights—as per master Burden’s instructions, in front of LACMA. There they remain, a backdrop for tourists, fashionistas and their endless selfies.

Here’s the truly grotesque thing about Urban Light. As I photographed the demolition of LACMA starting in April 2020—over the months, despite the racket of jackhammers and bulldozers, the clouds of pulverized concrete, the heaps of crumpled metal, wire, and broken cement, and the sight of LACMA’s walls crashing to the ground; people continued to obliviously flock to Urban Light for selfies. If the new LACMA is never completed they will still gather around those damnable street lights like moths to a flame.

"Selfies." In the background you can see wrecking cranes and tractors pulverizing LACMA into dust, as people take selfies at the Urban Light "sculpture." Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 13, 2020

"Selfies." In the background you can see wrecking cranes and tractors pulverizing LACMA into dust, as people take selfies at the Urban Light "sculpture." Photo Mark Vallen ©. May 13, 2020

In 2012 Govan acquired and installed Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass for an estimated $10 million. Considered a “great sculpture” by the postmodern crowd, Levitated Mass is simply an enormous un-carved 340-ton granite boulder that straddles a deep concrete trench and path that allows people to walk beneath it. If archaeologists from the distant future ever dig through the colossal mountains of commercial detritus formally known as Los Angeles—smashed titanium bicycles, shattered liquid crystal displays, crushed cars made from carbon-reinforced plastic, mashed kevlar bulletproof vests… what on earth will they think of the 340-ton boulder?

"Skeletonized." As good as any abstract painting formerly displayed at the museum, is my demolition photo of the nearly demolished Wilshire Entrance of LACMA, taken April 25 2020. Photo Mark Vallen ©.

"Skeletonized." As good as any abstract painting formerly displayed at the museum, is my demolition photo of the nearly demolished Wilshire Entrance of LACMA, taken April 25 2020. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©.

For me the coup de grâce was the Ahmanson Foundation refusing to gift LACMA with European Old Master paintings and sculptures. The decision came in Feb., 2020 after a 60 year relationship that saw the Ahmanson donate more than $130 million in art treasures to LACMA. The Ahmanson Foundation had provided the core of the museum’s European art collection, and its founder, banker Howard Ahmanson, played a pivotal role in the creation of LACMA.

The Ahmanson ended its relationship with LACMA because Govan’s new museum will not provide dedicated exhibition space for the display of permanent exhibits, which the Ahmanson acquisitions were meant for. Instead, the art will end up in offsite storage; some of it will see the light of day at the new LACMA only if selected for rotating exhibits. That means paintings by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Titian, and many others will languish in storage. This is not how a prestigious art museum serves a community—but it is a prime example of Michael Govan’s total lack of leadership. The entire postmodern putsch is a war against art.

"Going, Going, Gone." Emblazoned on the wrecking crane slamming the facade of LACMA’s Ahmanson Building is the slogan of GGG Demolition Inc., the company that conducted the destruction of the museum. Aptly enough, the three Gs stand for "Going, Going, Gone." Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

"Going, Going, Gone." Emblazoned on the wrecking crane slamming the facade of LACMA’s Ahmanson Building is the slogan of GGG Demolition Inc., the company that carried out the destruction. Aptly enough, the three Gs stand for "Going, Going, Gone." Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

"Reflections." Across the street from LACMA is the 5900 Wilshire skyscraper; my photo captures the museum reflected in the skyscraper’s windows. Marking the 1989 demolition of the Berlin Wall, 10 original segments of the Wall were installed at the 5900 in 2009. Ironic that LACMA and the Berlin Wall are both gone. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

"Reflections." Across the street from LACMA is the 5900 Wilshire skyscraper; my photo captures the museum reflected in the skyscraper’s windows. Marking the 1989 demolition of the Berlin Wall, 10 original segments of the Wall were installed at the 5900 in 2009. It's ironic that LACMA and the Berlin Wall are now both gone. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

And speaking of war. As a result of his 2003 invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush built a sprawling U.S. Embassy in that war-torn country that cost $750 million dollars—people bitterly complained that it was a complete waste of money, I know because I was one of them.

What else can $750 million purchase? In August 2020, the Trump administration signed a $750 million deal with Abbott Laboratories to buy 150 million rapid-result Covid 19 testing kits. That seemed a necessary thing in a time of pandemic, but does tearing down a first-class art museum and constructing a new one in its place for over $750 million appear to be a crucial imperative in pestilential times?

Michael Govan’s LACMA boondoggle, with its declared $750 million price tag, will likely cost more than $1 billion. Nevertheless, aside from the bold and fearless minority of art advocates who fulminate against the demolition of LACMA… who’s complaining?

"Everything’s Fine." A couple leisurely strolls by the massive piles of rubble that were once the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

"Everything’s Fine." A couple leisurely strolls by the massive piles of rubble that were once the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 13 2020.

“Playing in the ruins of tomorrow, today” is an old Situationist aphorism that very much describes the postmodern state of Los Angeles. In characterizing my home city to visitors I have always remarked that it reinvents itself every twenty years, tearing down the “old” for the “new.” How apropos that LA’s once celebrated art museum now lies in utter ruin. It’s an open wound on the metropolis, one that I fear will never heal.

"The Scar." LACMA’s director Michael Govan created this scar on the landscape of Los Angeles—may he always be remembered for it. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 14, 2020.

"The Scar." LACMA’s director Michael Govan created this scar on the landscape of Los Angeles—may he always be remembered for it. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Sept 14, 2020.

"Razed in L.A." Here today, gone tomorrow. The LACMA campus obliterated. This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Feb 14, 2021.

"Razed in L.A." Here today, gone tomorrow. The LACMA campus obliterated. This is the end, beautiful friend, this is the end. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Feb 14, 2021.

"LACMA Idyll." A formidable grey security wall some 15 ft tall, encircles what is left of museum grounds. The barrier completely forbids the public a view of ongoing construction. An incongruous "welcome" sign cloaks a drab tableau of destruction. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Feb 14 2021.

"LACMA Idyll." A formidable grey security wall some 15 ft tall, encircles what is left of museum grounds. The barrier completely forbids the public a view of ongoing construction. An incongruous "welcome" sign cloaks a drab tableau of destruction. Photo Mark Vallen ©. Feb 14 2021.