Masked Men Cause Panic at London’s National Portrait Gallery—For What?

The incident is thought to be a protest against BP, but climate activists have disavowed it.

London’s National Portrait GalleryPhoto: Britain From Above
London’s National Portrait Gallery
Photo: Britain From Above

A group of four masked individuals sparked panic on Sunday at London’s National Portrait Gallery.

The masked men burst into the central London museum at about 3:30 pm and staged a “hoax heist,” in which they tried to remove Frank Oriti’s painting Clarity (2014) from the gallery wall.

Frank Oriti’s <em>Clarity</em>, the painting the masked men tried to seize<br />Photo via: frankoritijr.com

Frank Oriti’s Clarity (2014), the painting the masked men tried to seize.
Photo: via frankoritijr.com.

But the alarm bells went off before they could seize the artwork. The group of intruders dispersed, causing panicked visitors to flee in chaos, nearly causing a stampede.

The National Gallery confirmed the incident via a statement:

“The National Portrait Gallery can confirm that police were called to the Gallery at 15:33 on Sunday, 5 July following an incident. Four men were later arrested in connection with the incident under the Public Order Act. The Gallery can confirm than none of its visitors or staff were physically harmed and nothing was stolen or vandalized.”

According to the Evening Standard, the “hoax heist” was mounted to protest against oil company BP’s sponsorship of the 2015 BP Portrait Award, which went to the Israeli artist Matan Ben Cnaan and comes with a £30,000 cash prize.

Matan Ben Cnaan, Annabelle and Guy (2015) Photo: courtesy the National Portrait Gallery

Matan Ben Cnaan, Annabelle and Guy (2015).
Photo: Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

About 100 terrified museum-goers were in the gallery at the time of the incident, which also coincided with the eve of the anniversary of the 7/7 London terrorist attacks.

“My boyfriend looked back and saw the two men with stockings on their heads and we just ran several streets away with about 40 people alongside us,” Monice Remmers, who was at the museum when the incident took place, told the ES.

“I have no problem with protests,” John Birch, another witness, told the ES. “The arts have always danced with the devil for funding, but on the eve of the 7/7 anniversary to walk into a major tourist location wearing a mask is utter lunacy. People were scared for their lives and I thought there would be a shooting.”

And yet, none of the activist groups associated with the recent protests against BP—including Platform, Liberate Tate, and Art Not Oil—have claimed responsibility for the incident.

“We do not know anything about it,” Anna Galkina, from the Art Not Oil coalition, told artnet News. “The National Portrait Gallery should ally itself to a livable future and drop BP as a sponsor. That’s our message. When we stage protest performances, we engage our audience in the gallery and on social and mass media in the performance … What the masked group were trying to do in the National Portrait Gallery, I don’t know.”

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention” against BP at Tate Modern this weekendPhoto: Martin LeSanto-Smith via The Guardian

Protesters participating in the 25-hour “textual intervention” against BP at Tate Modern in June 2015.
Photo: Courtesy of Martin LeSanto-Smith via The Guardian.


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