Icom says it shares climate activists' concerns but condemns art attacks - Museums Association

Icom says it shares climate activists’ concerns but condemns art attacks

International body says museums should be seen as allies against a common threat
Activism Climate crisis Protest
Two activists threw soup on Van Gogh's Sunflowers painting at the National Gallery in October
Two activists threw soup on Van Gogh's Sunflowers painting at the National Gallery in October Just Stop Oil

Museums are key actors in driving climate action and should be seen as allies in the climate movement, the International Council of Museums (Icom) has said.

The council's comments come after a spate of demonstrations in which Just Stop Oil activists have targeted internationally significant works of art. Last month, two protestors threw a can of tomato soup on Van Gogh's Sunflowers in London's National Gallery, while earlier this year activists glued themselves to works at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Manchester Art Gallery and the Courtauld Institute and Royal Academy in London.

Icom said it “wishes to acknowledge and share both the concerns expressed by museums regarding the safety of collections and the concerns of climate activists as we face an environmental catastrophe that threatens life on Earth”.

The international body said it sees the choice of museums as a backdrop for protests “as a testament of their symbolic power and relevance in the discussions around the climate emergency”.

Icom said museums should be seen as key actors in initiating and supporting climate action with their communities, and as “allies in facing the common threat of climate change”.

The council also highlighted the impact that such protests could have on the museum workforce. “Icom calls attention to the impact that these demonstrations could have on the work of museum professionals and volunteers who strive to protect and promote these valuable items of heritage for the enjoyment of the public,” said the statement.

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It follows the publication of a letter signed by 92 museum directors from around the world condemning the attacks. Released by Icom's German national committee last week, the letter said climate activists were underestimating the fragility of the works.  

It said: “In recent weeks, there have been several attacks on works of art in international museum collections. The activists responsible for them severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage. As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.

“Museums are places where people from a wide variety of backgrounds can engage in dialogue and which therefore enable social discourse. In this sense, the core tasks of the museum as an institution – collecting, researching, sharing and preserving – are now more relevant than ever. We will continue to advocate for direct access to our cultural heritage. And we will maintain the museum as a free space for social communication.”

Signatories included Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, Gabriele Finaldi, director of London's National Gallery and Tristram Hunt, director of Victoria and Albert Museum.

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