Security Stopped Climate Activists From Gluing Themselves to ‘The Scream’
As similar protests play out throughout Europe, museums consider how to respond
Two climate activists attempted to glue themselves to Edvard Munch’s famous 1893 painting The Scream in Oslo last week. Museum security quickly intercepted the protesters and turned them over to Norwegian police, along with another activist who had been filming the incident.
The painting is not damaged, though some glue remains on the protective glass casing, police tell Jan M. Olsen of the Associated Press (AP). Officials at Norway’s National Museum have temporarily closed the room displaying The Scream, though they say it will be reopened as soon as possible.
The activists are part of the group Stopp oljeletinga (Stop Oil Exploration). Norway is a major producer of oil and gas; in 2023, the country’s oil production is predicted to increase by 15 percent. The protest came in the midst of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, in Egypt, where world leaders are gathering to discuss the climate crisis.
“We are campaigning against Scream because it is perhaps Norway’s most famous painting,” Astrid Rem, a spokesperson for Stopp oljeletinga, tells the AP. “There have been lots of similar actions around Europe. They have managed something that no other action has managed: achieve an extremely large amount of coverage and press.”
The Oslo incident is the latest in a series of similar demonstrations targeting art museums. Over the past six months, climate protesters throughout Europe have glued themselves to Botticelli, van Gogh and Vermeer paintings; thrown soup and mashed potatoes at masterpieces; and even smeared cake on the glass protecting the Mona Lisa, all in a bid to draw attention to the climate crisis. No paintings have been harmed in any of the protests, as they are usually behind protective glass. In a few cases, protective casings or frames sustained damage.
In response to the protests, museums have been beefing up security. In some cases, protesters are facing serious consequences, which range from hefty fines to jail time.
Last month, two activists in Belgium glued themselves to Vermeer’s famous Girl With a Pearl Earring. “How do you feel when you see something beautiful and priceless being apparently destroyed before your eyes?” one of them said during the demonstration, as seen in a video. “Do you feel outraged? Good. Where is that feeling when you see the planet being destroyed before our very eyes?”
While the painting was not damaged, the protesters each received two months in prison. Prosecutors had asked for four months, but the judge said that she didn’t want to discourage others from demonstrating, per Reuters’ Charlotte Van Campenhout.
BREEK - Meisje met de parel van Johannes Vermeer besmeurd in #Mauritshuis. pic.twitter.com/XzAZTOoBv9— Steven Bakker (@Kolpen) October 27, 2022
On November 9, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) released a statement signed by 92 museum leaders. The climate activists “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage,” they wrote. “As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.”
A few days later, in a new statement, ICOM acknowledged the concerns of both museum officials and climate protesters. “[T]he choice of museums as a backdrop for these climate protests,” wrote the group, is a testament to “their symbolic power and relevance in the discussions around the climate emergency.”