Two activists kneel in front of Charles Ray's "Horse and Rider" (2014) sculpture dripping with orange paint outside of Bourse de Commerce in central Paris. (image courtesy Dernière Renovation via Flickr)

Climate activists splashed fluorescent orange paint on Charles Ray’s “Horse with Rider” (2014) sculpture in the heart of Paris on Friday, November 18, one of the latest in a recent spate of actions targeting works of art. Organizing on behalf of the French climate change awareness group Dernière Rénovation, one activist launched himself onto the sculpture and put a t-shirt on the human figure that read “we have 858 days left,” while his colleague doused the horse with a bucket full of paint. Afterwards, both activists attached their ankles to the front legs of the horse and knelt before it, joining hands.

That same day, activists from the Italian division of Last Generation threw flour on an Andy Warhol-painted BMW in a Milan art gallery.

Addressing onlookers in French outside the Bourse de Commerce – Pinault Collection where the Ray sculpture was installed, one of the protesters who targeted that work said: “I’m 26 years old. Today, there is almost no chance that I’ll die of old age. It must be said: The government’s inaction is a mass crime against our generation, against our friends, against those close to us.”

The reference to “858 days” on the activists’ t-shirt is taken from an April report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stated that global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and then reduce by a minimum of 43% by 2030 to limit global warming to a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature increase. Otherwise, humans run the risk of an immense rise in sea levels, catastrophic weather patterns, and detriments to our food sources.

The statue belongs to the collection of French billionaire François Pinault, who founded Kering, a luxury goods conglomerate. In 2016, Pinault and the Council of Paris announced their plans to convert the historic Bourse de Commerce building into a contemporary art museum that subsequently opened in May of 2021.

This appears to be Dernière Rénovation’s first art-aligned action, as their climate awareness demonstrations typically manifest as roadblocks or interruptions during sporting events. It’s noteworthy that they chose an unprotected artwork as their subject this time, given that nearly all the museum works that have been subjected to splatters of edible and non-edible substances in recent weeks have been protected by glass.

Neither Charles Ray’s studio nor Dernière Rénovation was immediately available for comment. In a statement on Twitter, French Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak lamented the action. “Eco-vandalism goes up a notch: an unprotected sculpture by Charles Ray was sprayed with paint in Paris,” she wrote. “Art and ecology are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they are common causes!”

Regardless, it appears that the statue made it out unharmed as it was thoroughly cleaned off later that day.

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Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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