At 11 am on the 14th of October in room 43 of the National Gallery in London, a can of tomato soup was thrown at Vincent van Gogh’s celebrated Sunflowers, 1888. This act of vandalism was committed by the JSO (Just Stop Oil) organization, a group funded to support environmental activism. The activists then proceeded to glue their hands to the wall underneath the painting and stated, “What is worth more? Art or life? Is it worth more than food? Worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?”.
Protests by the JSO have accelerated recently in London over the past two weeks, with various “sit ins” and blockades. In this case soup has been used to demonstrate the poverty in England at the moment caused by the inflation of the pound and the rise in oil prices, as some people cannot even afford to heat a can of soup at the moment. According to the National Gallery the painting itself did not receive any damage as it was encased.
This is not the first time the JSO has vandalized a work, with past examples of Constable’s The Hay Wain, 1821 and Botticelli’s The birth of Venus, 1485-86, over this past year. So, can this bring change or is this a despicable act? However more importantly, is it in bad taste with the lack of energy being produced this winter to heat homes?
Just Stop Oil members throw soup over the painting. Screenshot from Just Stop Oil on Youtube
People have had different reactions to this, with some viewing it as idiotic to destroy a “priceless” work of art. Others, however, have compared this to the work of the Suffragette movement, who’s action at the time received public hatred. The Suffragette’s main goal was to bring attention to their cause and achieve gender equality by any means. This is when voting and peaceful protest are no longer viable options, which is the case when it has come to the inaction against climate change.
Although this has bought attention to the climate change movement it has been mostly negative, especially with oil supplies being cut off during the Russian-Ukraine War. Stopping oil is not a viable option at the moment with the economic crisis. There is the argument posed by The Canvas on Youtube channel called, How should we react to Van Gogh being Vandalized? which states that this incident might be a way of preserving art. For art to be conserved and appreciated we need to have a next generation capable of doing so, which might not exist with our current treatment of the environment. This is an idea explored in Mark Capitalist Realism, which The Canvas refers to as “Nihilistic Hedonism”. Art is important, but what’s the point if we’re not going to be here? This is an important idea to maintain, however this is not the time for oil cuts during a time where gas has become a commodity and people are struggling to heat their homes. Many people have focused too much on the action and not the cause which in itself is in poor taste and contradictory, during a period where people are freezing and starving due to a lack of oil supply.
Although climate activism is important people’s lives are at risk with the lack of oil being produced and it is selfish to think that oil production can just be stopped during this winter period, as without oil people cannot heat a can of soup.
Image from Just Stop Oil on Youtube