Two activists glued themselves to one of the Vatican Museum’s most famous sculptures, ‘Laocoön and … [+] his Sons’.
Speed is the rule for a new and peculiar way of demanding institutional action against climate change that has emerged in Europe this season: The activists, generally young and committed to save the world, spread super glue on their hands then stick them to a work of art, hoping that security or police don’t arrive before the glue dries.
Their targets have been important masterpieces in some of the world’s best-known museums that, according to the protesters, are meaningful to their cause of bringing attention to the climate crisis. The message is direct: Their countries should not be approving any new gas and oil leases.
Protestors from the action group Ultima Generazione glue their hands to the glass covering Sandro … [+] Botticelli’s La Primavera at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, on July 22.
The same protestors are pulled away after their attempt.
The spate of stunts involving famous pieces started in Great Britain where members of the activist coalition Just Stop Oil glued themselves to the painting My Heart’s in the Highlands by Horatio McCulloch at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland, in late June.
In July, two activists covered John Constable’s Hay Wain painting — an iconic, 1821 romantic landscape considered a national treasure at the National Gallery in London — with their own nightmare version of the countryside and then glued themselves to the frame.
“We have covered the Hay Wain with a reimagined version that illustrates the impact of our addiction to fossil fuels on our countryside,” Just Stop Oil said in a press release. “The painting is an important part of our heritage, but it is not more important than the 3.5 billion men, women and children already in danger because of the climate crisis.”
They were followed in July by similar sticky actions on a Van Gogh piece at the Courtauld Institute in London. The gallery was cleared by security and police arrived. They had attacked the landscape Peach Trees Blossom, which depicts Provence in the south of France, currently suffering unprecedented droughts.
A painting by J.M.W. Turner at the Manchester Art Gallery in Manchester and a painting of The Last Supper by Giampietrino at the Royal Academy in London, also were targeted by the gluing protesters.
Activists of the environmental group Ultima Generazione (Last Generation), named after the idea that they are the last generation that can act to reverse the effects of climate change, followed suit in Italy.
The latest in a series of stunts occurred on August 18 at the Vatican Museums in Rome, where two activists glued themselves to one of its most famous sculptures, Laocoön and his Sons, from around 40BC, after spreading a banner with their slogan: “No Gas no coal.”
“Like the priest Laocoonte in ancient Greece,” Ultima Generazione explains in an online statement, “scientists and activists are not being listened to, or worse, they are repeatedly silenced by governments as they warn their communities about the catastrophic implications of not acting to mitigate the climate emergency.”
Laocoön, according to Greek mythology, advised his fellow citizens not to let the wooden horse – a gift from the Greeks – enter the city. His advice was disregarded, Troy fell to the Greek soldiers hidden in the horse and lost the war.
After covering the painting with their own version, Just Stop Oil climate activists glued their … [+] hands to The Hay Wain painting by John Constable at the National Gallery, London, on July 4. Photo by Kristian Buus
Just Stop Oil climate activists glued themselves to a Van Gogh painting at the Courtauld Gallery in … [+] London on June 30. Photo by Kristian Buus
In Padua, Italy, last week Last Generation activists chained themselves to the railing of the Scrovegni Chapel. Police cut the chains and carted the demonstrators away.
The site was chosen because it has a famous mural painted by Giotto depicting the potential end of the world, with one path representing a future in which humanity saves itself using principles such as justice and another path representing humanity’s demise due to greed.
Earlier, in July, protestors from the same group tried to glue themselves to Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera (around 1480) at the Uffizi Gallery (Gallerie degli Uffizi) in Florence, Italy, but security intervened before the glue dried on the glass protecting the painting and the two young protesters were dragged out by force while decrying the damage being done to the planet.
The Uffizi Gallery’s website describes Botticelli’s 540-year-old Primavera (Spring) and one of the world’s most famous paintings as “a celebration of love, peace, and prosperity.”
“Is it possible to see a spring as beautiful as this today?” Ultima Generazione said in a statement. “Fires, food crises and drought make it increasingly difficult. We decided to use art to sound an alarm call: We are heading towards social and eco-climate collapse.”
Also in July, similar action was staged at the Museo del Novecento in Milan, where members of the non-violent civil disobedience movement were able to stick themselves to the sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) by the futurist artist Umberto Boccioni.
A Just Stop Oil climate activist glues herself to a Van Gogh painting at London’s Courtauld Gallery … [+] on June 30. Photo by Kristian Buus
There have been other incidents. At an aquarium in Genoa, activists wrote slogans on the dolphin pools, including ‘No Gas no Coal’ and glued their hands to the glass of the tanks.
“Look at all this water,” Laura, one of the campaign coordinators, told the Gazzetta di Parma. “Look now at our land. Arid. It hasn’t rained throughout Italy for months. Climate change is leading to the destruction of our crops every year: we are to the point where we begin to struggle to produce food for our country. You can see it from the increase in prices, which in September will reach unprecedented peaks and politicians are doing nothing.”
As usual, police came and took the protesters away.
There are two facts that deserve particular mention:
The damage to the art works have been minor since the activists glue themselves to the frames or the pedestals of the art works. In the case of Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera in Florence, there was no damage done as security guards ripped the protesters’ hands free and the cleaning of the glass took less than 20 minutes, according to the Uffizi.
The second fact is that the activist groups in Europe receive funds from the Los Angeles-based Climate Emergency Fund (CEF) a philanthropic group created in 2019 to support environmental activism.
“They (the activist groups) also share a surprising financial lifeline: heirs to two American families that became fabulously rich from oil,” the New York Times explains. “Two relatively new nonprofit organizations, which the oil scions helped found, are funding dozens of protest groups dedicated to interrupting business as usual through civil disobedience, mostly in the United States, Canada and Europe.”
“We support the brave activists waking up the public to the climate emergency,” the Californian fund says in its website. It has given a total of $1 million to Just Stop Oil and Ultima Generazione, as reported by The Observer,
The funds, according to CEF, go to finance “only legal activities, such as training, education, travel, printing and recruitment costs.” The grant recipients must confirm that the money has not been spent on activities prohibited by law.
Simon Bramwell, cofounder of Extinction Rebellion and who participated in one of the art-related actions. explained to ARTnews: “Politics will always follow culture, so it’s absolutely vital that we hold the ideals of our cultural institutions to account. And the hour is late.
As a planet, we’re waking up to the fact that a 1.5-degree [Celsius] increase means catastrophe and that figure’s already in the rearview mirror. If we hit two degrees, that could mean that 20% of the earth becomes uninhabitable. It’s time to bring the institutions of our culture on board in regards to the truth-telling of these times.”

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