‘We Have Been Deeply Shaken’: 92 Museum Leaders Release Statement Addressing Climate Actions That Target Works of Art

The statement comes as world leaders meet at the COP27 climate summit.

Dutch police arrested climate activists targeting Johannes Vermeer's painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring." (Photo by PHIL NIJHUIS/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Following weeks of increasingly frequent actions by climate activists targeting works of art in museums around the world, the National Committee in Germany of ICOM, the International Council of Museums, has issued a statement to address the vandalism.

The letter has been cosigned by 92 representatives from cultural institutions, including Laurence des Cars of the Louvre; Miguel Falomir, director of the Prado; Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum; Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim; and Martine Gosselink, general director of the Mauritshuis.

Rather than tackling the question of whether the actions—throwing foodstuffs at paintings or gluing body parts to frames—are effective at pressing government officials to enact real climate policy, the statement mainly addresses the potential damage to artworks.

The activists, the letter reads, “severely underestimate the fragility of these irreplaceable objects, which must be preserved as part of our world cultural heritage.” The signatories continue, “As museum directors entrusted with the care of these works, we have been deeply shaken by their risky endangerment.” Nonetheless, the statement ends by emphasizing museums as sites for “social discourse.”

In response to these demonstrations, museums have been beefing up security measures. Berlin venues and the Museum Barberini in Potsdam are now requiring visitors store jackets and bags in lockers. Since news of the actions is often spread via social media, Beate Reifenscheid, chair of ICOM in Germany, told Artnet News that soon, cellphones and cameras may be confiscated as well. Last month, museum guards at the Musée d’Orsay were able to thwart an attack when they noted a woman in a “Just Stop Oil” shirt entering the institution. Protesters have also been fined and sentenced to jail time, though it’s not stopping further actions.

The protests and ICOM’s letter come as more than 90 heads of state and representatives from 190 countries meet in Egypt for COP27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, to address pressing issues of global climate change.

Read the full statement below:

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.

Here’s the full list of signatories:

  • Evelio Acevedo, Managing Director, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
  • Elina Anttila, Director General, The National Museum of Finland, Helsinki
  • Richard Armstrong, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, New York
  • Agustín Arteaga, Director, Dallas Museum of Art
  • László Baán, General Director, Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest
  • Sebastian Baden, Director, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt
  • Séverine Berger, Director, Musée de l’Annonciade, Saint-Tropez
  • Claire Bernardi, Director, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris
  • Konrad Bitterli, Director, Kunst Museum Winterthur
  • Andreas Blühm, General Director, Groninger Museum
  • Frédéric Bußmann, General Director, Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
  • Thomas P. Campbell, Director, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
  • Laurence des Cars, President, Musée du Louvre, Paris
  • Cécile Debray, President, Musée national Picasso-Paris
  • Markus Dekiert, Director, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum & Fondation Corboud, Cologne
  • Ann Demeester, Director, Kunsthaus Zürich
  • Roger Diederen, Director, Kunsthalle München
  • Hartmut Dorgerloh, General Director, Humboldt Forum, Berlin
  • Martin Faass, Director, Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt
  • Miguel Falomir, Director, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
  • Diego Ferretti, Director, Mart – Museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto
  • Gabriele Finaldi, Director, The National Gallery, London
  • Hartwig Fischer, Director, British Museum, London
  • Reidar Fuglestad, Director, Kunstsilo, Kristiansand
  • Susanne Gaensheimer, Director, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf
  • Akira Gokita, Director, Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
  • Peter Gorschlüter, Director, Museum Folkwang, Essen
  • Martine Gosselink, General Director, Mauritshuis, The Hague
  • Christoph Grunenberg, Director, Kunsthalle Bremen
  • Sabine Haag, Director General, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
  • Tone Hansen, Director, Munchmuseet, Oslo
  • Annette Haudiquet, Director, Musée d’art moderne André Malraux, Le Havre
  • Christoph Heinrich, Director, Denver Art Museum
  • Isidro Hernández, Chief Curator, Óscar Domínguez Collection, TEA Tenerife Espacio de las Artes
  • Karin Hindsbo, Director, National Museum, Oslo
  • Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Johan Holten, Director, Kunsthalle Mannheim
  • Tristram Hunt, Director, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Thomas Köhler, Director, Berlinische Galerie
  • Lidewij de Koekkoek, Director, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem
  • Felix Krämer, Director General, Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf
  • Karola Kraus, General Director, mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
  • Ulrike Kremeier, Director, Brandenburgisches Landesmuseum für Moderne Kunst, Cottbus/Frankfurt (Oder)
  • Stephan Kunz, Artistic Director, Bündner Kunstmuseum Chur
  • Christiane Lange, Director, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart
  • Eric M. Lee, Director, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth
  • Séverine Lepape, Director, Musée de Cluny, Paris
  • Christophe Leribault, President, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
  • Christine Litz, Interim Executive Director, Städtische Museen Freiburg
  • Glenn D. Lowry, Director, Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • Katherine C. Luber, Director and President, Minneapolis Institute of Art
  • Paola Malavassi, Director, DAS MINSK Kunsthaus in Potsdam
  • Roland Mönig, Director, Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal
  • Erik H. Neil, Director and CEO, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk
  • Jörg-Uwe Neumann, Director, Kunsthalle Rostock
  • Alex Nyerges, Director and CEO, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
  • Hermann Parzinger, President, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin
  • Anne Pasternak, Director, Brooklyn Museum, New York
  • Katherina Perlongo, Interim Director, Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin
  • Ann Philbin, Director, Hammer Museum UCLA, Los Angeles
  • Igor Poronyk, Director, Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art
  • Rebecca Rabinow, Director, The Menil Collection, Houston
  • Svenja Gräfin von Reichenbach, Director, Palais Populaire, Berlin
  • Beate Reifenscheid, President, ICOM Germany
  • Xavier Rey, Director, Musée national d’art moderne – Centre Pompidou, Paris
  • Stella Rollig, General Director, Belvedere Museum, Vienna
  • Bart Rutten, Director, Centraal Museum, Utrecht
  • Salvador Salort-Pons, Director, President & CEO, Detroit Institute of Arts
  • Henning Schaper, Director, Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden
  • Eike Schmidt, Director, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence
  • Cyrille Sciama, Director, Musée des impressionnismes Giverny
  • Klaus Albrecht Schröder, General Director, The Albertina Museum, Vienna
  • Walter Smerling, Director, MKM Museum Küppersmühle für Moderne Kunst, Duisburg
  • Petter Snare, Director, KODE Bergen Art Museum
  • Guillermo Solana, Artistic Director, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
  • Reinhard Spieler, Director, Sprengel Museum Hannover
  • Paul Spies, Director, Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin
  • Angela Stief, Director, Albertina Modern, Vienna
  • Elisa Tamaschke, Interim Director, Georg Kolbe Museum, Berlin
  • Matthew Teitelbaum, Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
  • Gary Tinterow, Director, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
  • Poul Erik Tøjner, Director, The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk
  • Karole P. B. Vail, Director, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
  • Juan Ignacio Vidarte, General Director, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao
  • Christoph Martin Vogtherr, General Director, Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten, Potsdam
  • Aurélie Voltz, General Director, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain de Saint-Étienne
  • Julia Wallner, Director, Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Remagen
  • Lucy Wasensteiner, Director, Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee, Berlin
  • Adam D. Weinberg, Director, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
  • Daniel H. Weiss, President and CEO, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
  • Ortrud Westheider, Director, Museum Barberini, Potsdam
  • Nina Zimmer, Director, Kunstmuseum Bern – Zentrum Paul Klee

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