This morning, November 15, the climate emergency activism group Letzte Generation’s Austrian branch took to the Leopold Museum in Vienna for another demonstration in the recent wave of substance-based attacks on revered masterpieces. One activist splattered the protective glass covering Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” (1915) with a viscous, oily black liquid. The same group made the news last month after smearing mashed potatoes on Claude Monet’s “Grainstacks” (1890) in the Barberini Museum in Germany.
Despite strict security precautions at the Leopold Museum, activists of Letzte Generation were able to sneak in the black liquid through a hot water bottle hidden underneath their clothing. One activist was quickly apprehended by a museum guard after splashing the black substance over the painting, while another activist took the opportunity to glue themselves to the protective glass.
The museum reported to the Austria Press Agency (APA) that while the painting went unharmed, damages to the frame, wall, and floor were “evident and significant.”
In a video posted by Letzte Generation, the activist that threw the black substance can be heard shouting “we have known about the problem for 50 years — we must finally act, otherwise the planet will be broken,” while trying to elbow themselves free from the museum guard’s restraint.
“Stop the fossil fuel destruction. We are racing into a climate hell,” they added. The activist that had glued themselves to the painting corroborated the same message.
“It is not our intention to destroy art. There is always glass in front of it,” David Sonnenbaum, an activist affiliated with Letzte Generation, told Hyperallergic. “What do we really want? We want to save art. We are observing more and more crop failures. If the governments continue the path of fossil destruction, we will experience a social collapse. If that happens, no art is safe anymore. Our deepest wish is to save art and social peace.”
Unsurprisingly, Hans-Peter Wipplinger, the Leopold Museum’s director, doesn’t echo the same sentiments. He noted in a statement that the concerns of climate activists are justified, “but the attacking works of art is definitely the wrong way to implement the targeted goal of preventing the predicted climate collapse.” Last week, dozens of leaders at top museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris signed a statement condemning the protests, and some institutions have notably tightened security measures in the wake of the actions — even as they have not reported any damage to the artworks as of yet.