Climate activists in London went full-on Warhol on Vincent Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888) at the National Gallery this morning, covering it in Heinz tomato soup. The two activists, members of the group Just Stop Oil, then glued their hands to the wall below the painting, which is behind protective glass. They were both taken into police custody. The painting was not damaged and it’s already back on view, the National Gallery told Hyperallergic.
A video posted on Twitter by the Guardian‘s environment reporter Damien Gayle captures the activists splashing the tomato soup on the famous masterpiece around 11am. “Oh my gosh,” a man is heard yelling in the background, among audible gasps of shock. Another man is heard calling for security.
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Just Stop Oil took responsibility for the action in a tweet, also asking: “Is art worth more than life? More than food? More than justice?”
“The cost of living crisis and the climate crisis is driven by oil and gas,” the group added, and called for the release of its members.
But why tomato soup? Did the activists confuse Van Gogh with Andy Warhol? If so, it’s worth reminding everyone that Warhol had ties to the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a dictator and an oil mogul. Warhol also made a portrait of the Shah’s wife, Empress Farah Pahlavi, just three years before the couple was overthrown in 1979.
London’s Metropolitan Police said that the two protesters were arrested on charges of criminal damage and aggravated trespass.
In recent months, climate activists have glued themselves to masterpieces in several museums including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, the Vatican in Rome, the Courtauld Gallery in London, and others. Today’s action is by far the most daring, and controversial, of them all.
Editor’s Note, 10/14/2022, 12:32 EDT: This article has been updated with new information.