Artworks turning red: vandalism or complaint?
14th October 2022, the whole world is shocked by the news that two environmentalists threw tomato sauce on Van Gogh's iconic Sunflowers on display at London's National Gallery. “In order to denounce the fact that art appears to be more relevant than the planet where we inhabit” the two girls would say.
Trying to be impartial I must admit that this action was so striking that it drew a lot of attention and interest worldwide, as a sign of protest. However my art lover side can’t help but question the fact that disfiguring an artwork has no influence on planet pollution, it does force many many people to investigate the reason why but it does not change the current situation.
Art has often been part of projects concerning pollution and planet health, and it does exist a so-called “Ecological Art” which aims to denounce climatic changes. For instance, my favourite one is Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd’s Climate Clock which counts down the critical time window to reach zero emissions (our “Deadline”), while tracking our progress on key solution pathways (“Lifelines”). I see it may be not strong enough as sauce on The Sunflowers but we have to recognize art commitment on that.
I think there are fields and areas of collective livelihood which sometimes can merge in order to speak loudly and get a bit more attention, but, it must be done with common sense, trying to bring different topics into the best dialogue and create synergy.
Clearly not what happened last week, for the action has mostly been perceived as vandalism and not as a call for help.
That’s why I’d call what happened “vandalism”, and I do see it as such a selfish act since you are destroying something you might even not really understand in order to prove something that that piece of art has nothing to do with. The result? A denunciation, a trial and maybe jail as well, all garnished with world’s blame and indignation.
The trend to vandalise artworks is not so uncommon - unfortunately. In this regard, the Italian Pietro Cannata is one of the best known name as he first chipped the toes of Michelangelo's David in September 1991 and indelibly dyed Filippo Lippi's fresco depicting The Funeral of St. Stephen, inside St. Stephen's Cathedral in Prato in 1993 because those monuments "are not looking good”.
One of the most memorable and impressive uncivilised acts dates back to 2007 when the Post-futurist Graziano Cecchini dropped a bucket containing red dye into the marble basin of the Trevi fountain, the result? Huge amounts of money to restore the landmark and tourist’s crazy pictures.
Among the most recent acts I can’t shut up on the Monnalisa vandalism: in 2009 when a Russian lady, outraged over the fact that French authorities had denied her citizenship, threw a ceramic cup at Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting. La Gioconda was vandalised also last May, when a man on a wheelchair quickly got up from his chair and smeared the glass with cake, shouting environmentalist slogans, then he scattered roses before being pushed to the ground by security.
My point? It needs a real connection, link, a well conceived dialog if we want art to speak for earth disease or any other issue, otherwise the action will end in a iper liked instagram post which everyone will forget in less than 24 hours.