Art Market Update
You may know that activist groups have targeted several major artworks in the past few months. While, for now, the artworks remain unharmed, it may only be a matter of time before a well-loved/ known artwork is irreparably damaged or destroyed.
The two latest events occurred at the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia, where two Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves to Pablo Picasso’s Massacre in Korea painting, and the National Gallery in London, where two Just Stop Oil activists poured two cans of tomato soup on Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting. One has to wonder if the latter event included a cheeky nod to Andy Warhol’s with the soup can (but it was more likely rather a coincidence and an apt weapon for the activist’s message).
While I hold the concern that these events could eventually lead to permanent damage or destruction of priceless artwork, my concern is somewhat tempered by the fact that the activists seem to choose artworks that won’t actually be damaged by their “attacks”. In the case of Picasso and van Gogh, they both had protective glass covering the painting. I think they understand that they gain nothing from destroying an artwork (and likely hinder their respective causes if they do). Do I think they would care all that much if they accidentally damaged an artwork? Not really, but I appreciate that they go out of their way to pick on protected artwork. This is rather a smart choice on their behalf and is far more conducive to a win-win situation; The activists win by drawing attention to their cause with their seemingly outrageous, headline-friendly actions. And the art world wins because, ultimately, the artworks that were ‘attacked’ remain unscathed.
Even so, it may only be a matter of time before an activist steps outside the bounds that they are currently operating and begin targeting more vulnerable or less fortified artworks. I can see a perpetrator justifying that the destruction of a well-known artwork is necessary to impart the seriousness of their message and the seriousness of the activist organization.