For or against scaling masterpieces? Five artists speak

Is throwing soup, mashed potatoes, or maple syrup on works of art an admirable or depressing way to highlight the need to act on the climate crisis? One artist, three visual artists and a group of artists take positions.

Soup or tomato sauce? To raise awareness of the climate emergency, environmental activists are hitting the headlines and spraying masterpieces. MillstonesBy Claude Monet or The Girl with the Pearl Earring, by Johannes Vermeer. In the latest incident to date in Canada, activists defaced (this time with maple syrup) a painting by artist Emily Carr (protected by glass) to protest the construction of the pipeline. Controversial actions with a strong media impact, causing a lot of comments on social networks… but paradoxically, few in the art community express themselves on this topic.

Are you shy in the corners, art world? Either way, he’s caught between two uncomfortable positions: anger at the actions of activists who support the just cause of fighting the climate crisis; or conversely, show solidarity at the risk of incurring the wrath of patrons, where industry groups are widely represented. Faced with our interview requests, many artists remained in touch, choosing a cautious silence. However, five of them openly agreed to take sides: two well-known artists, artist Gérard Garoust and visual artist Kader Attia, of the long-running Art Oriente Objet collective, as well as two young visual artists, Yvonne Argote and Mimosa Echard, recent Marcel-Duchamp Prize winners. the winner. Different generations, different perspectives and many questions.

Kader Attia, plastic surgeon: “The way to fight”

“Like many people, I am saddened by the attack on works of art. But we must be careful not to condemn these actions too quickly. Often we blame the youth for not becoming political, but when we actually want to act, we suddenly rebel. Even if the method of struggle is clumsy, it is reassuring to see young people alert in the face of environmental disaster. One of the problems with these punches is that people don’t care about them after ten days. These moves are spectacular, they create buzz, but they are part of the attention economy, where one piece of information drives out another. Many artists touch society more deeply with their works with a slower temporality, and these events become a spectacle without opening the conversational space necessary for enlightenment, including the art world. The exhibition creates pollution: we thought about this during the Berlin Biennale I curated, the reuse of walls, the transportation of works… The question these activists ask concerns us and all artists should ask themselves. »

Gérard Garouste, artist: “A lot of noise for what result?”

“All these movements are wet fireworks: they make a lot of noise, but what is the result? For an action to be political, it must be meaningful. I find this type of process mediocre and counterproductive because it blurs the message and distorts the subject. It makes sense for Serge and Beat Klarsfeld to spray a pot of paint on a fascist, but what are we to understand that Van Gogh did not like nature? His sunflower he doesn’t deserve it. It’s silly to have so much to do, to invent then… I’d like to see a delegation from Amazonia parading through a museum, talking about deforestation in the middle of paintings. All this contributes to the general hubbub without advancing the cause of ecology. »

Art Orienté Objet collective: “We talk about ‘eco-terrorism’ wrongly”

“These actions are a sign of the times, a sign of despair. They are effective primarily because they get people talking about themselves and the environment, something scientists have been trying to attract attention to for decades in vain. It is not so absurd to connect nature with culture in this way: by destroying the first, we risk hastening the end of the second. As for the severity of the criticisms and the terms that describe them, it is not new; For thirty years, the term “eco-terrorism” has been used incorrectly and baselessly. This was the case in the 1990s, when we tied ourselves to trees in the forest of Fontainebleau to protest the cuts. But these are still peaceful actions. In this case, the target tables are protected by glass. Sacrifice the forest but cry foul while throwing soup on the masterpiece? The scandalous thing is that people get angry, but do not go beyond this initial shock to think and act. »

October 23 at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam, Germany. Two environmental activists from the Letzte Nasil (“Last Generation”) movement have just sprinkled mashed potatoes over Claude Monet’s Les Meules (painting protected by glass).

Photo: AFP

Mimosa Echard, visual artist:A certain courage and a lot of energy”

“I like going to museums, so I’m worried about the situation, because if these movements increased, it would mean museums under control… I find it very gratifying that the younger generation is ready to fight, but they don’t go. resign and I am very surprised to see how insulted these young activists are. Their actions require some courage and a lot of energy. The canvases they target are protected by glass: images that provoke violence. This reveals how superficial the conversation about them remains. It is also interesting that attacking a work of art moves us so deeply: it proves how they manage to touch a sensitive point. Works of art speak to our relationship to the world, polluting them is a way of making us feel the violence of the destruction of life. »

Ivan Argote, visual artist: “The ideal tool for education”

“In 2008, I had just come from Columbia to study at Beaux-Arts, and I was curious about my relationship with art history, and I was curious about the museum, which was a strange, sacred place for me, where I discovered works. art I’ve seen in books before. I enjoyed creating fiction: in one, retouch, By the way, I was tagging a glazed Mondrian canvas. But I imitated the gesture with a spray can and the paint stroke was virtual. I put the video on YouTube early on, it’s been there for fourteen years [voir la vidéo en bas de l’article, ndlr]. Like me as a young student at the time, these activists use the museum to draw attention to an issue. It’s an ideal vehicle because it’s both accessible and prestigious. As an artist, I think we can expand their use to raise awareness of the climate crisis: artists, visitors, but also art funders, which are often banks, industrial firms. Scientists have been warning us for thirty years, but we didn’t know how, we wanted to change our behavior. I myself was amazed by these images. Therefore, I do not cry for blasphemy, but for haste. »

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