Protestors dressed in all black staged a dramatic performance at the Louvre last Sunday to pressure the museum to cut its 20-year-long ties with French multinational oil and gas company Total S.A. The demonstration involved nearly 40 members of Libérons le Louvre, a collective that formed in January as part of Fossil Free Louvre, a campaign run by 350.org France to have the Louvre take a stand against the fossil fuel industry. It was the group’s first action at the museum, but it echoed the many demonstrations others have put on at cultural institutions in the United Kingdom that receive funding from the oil giant BP.
Using some of the black garments they were wearing, members of Libérons le Louvre created a symbolic oil spill that spread down the steps beneath one of the museum’s icons, the Winged Victory of Samothrace statue. They also reportedly handed out pamphlets to visitors that read, “Total supports the Louvre/The Louvre supports Total — #zerofossile.” The stairway, as the group explained in a press release, connects the classical work with some of the galleries that Total sponsors.
Like the British coalition Art Not Oil and collective Liberate Tate — who have also harnessed the visual vocabulary of black oil in their demonstrations — Libérons le Louvre points out that fossil fuel corporations are able to present themselves as benevolent supporters of culture in exchange for what are typically relatively small donations. The exact monetary value of Total’s generosity has not been reported, and Libérons le Louvre does not share exact details on the nature of the sponsorship on its website, but the oil company has helped realize exhibitions such as the 2015 blockbuster A Brief History of the Future. During the run of the show, activists that December protested the Louvre’s ties with Total and the Italian gas company Eni with a series of dynamic displays.
Total shared a strategy to address the climate crisis at a general meeting last year, but 350.org has condemned it an “illusion” that simply “legitimizes the large continued investments to develop new gas and oil deposits in the years to come.”
Clémence Dubois, a 350.org campaigner in France, said in a statement:
The partnership between Louvre and Total is incompatible with the commitments made in Paris during COP21. Keeping global warming well below 2°C means that we have to freeze new fossil fuel developments, and start phasing out fossil fuels altogether. But companies like Total are doing the exact opposite. They try to dig and drill ever deeper. The fossil fuel industry is a threat to humanity and our common future — as such, it shouldn’t be allowed to enter a museum which hosts pieces that have survived as many as three millennia.
Campaigner Nicolas Haeringer also pointed out that the museum’s ethics charter bans donations from the tobacco and alcohol industry; similar principles, she argues, should also guide its relationships to the fossil fuel industry.
Notably, the Louvre was a victim to rising waters last June, when the Seine River flooded due to record rainfall in Paris. The museum closed while employees rushed to relocate artworks to higher floors; scientists’ analysis of the heavy precipitation concluded that global warming increased the likelihood of the three-day rainstorms.
“There’s a bitter irony that the fossil fuel companies driving drastic changes to our climate are the ones profiting from the veneer of respectability that their Louvre partnership gives them,” reads a statement on Fossil Free Louvre’s website concerning the emergency evacuation.
Prior to last weekend’s performance, the 350.org branch also launched an online petition calling for the Louvre to end all partnerships with the fossil fuel industry. The museum’s president and director Jean-Luc Martinez responded in an email posted to the campaign website; in it, he emphasizes Total’s role in helping the institution promote art and realize various projects without interfering with the museum’s choices. Some of these projects include the educational program Petite Galerie and those organized annually specifically in support of International Women’s Day. Martinez also notes that ENI has not been a sponsor since January 2016. Hyperallergic reached out to the Louvre about Sunday’s demonstration but the museum did not wish to comment.