Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum closed Saturday, March 18, after it caught wind of a planned “guerrilla action” by Extinction Rebellion. The climate advocacy group alleged on Twitter that a local media outlet leaked news of the protest. Faced with a shuttered museum, the activists instead held a rally and “die-in” outside the institution.
The protest was planned for the 33rd anniversary of the infamous Gardner Museum art heist, when two men dressed as police officers stole 13 artworks in the early morning of March 18, 1990. Their empty frames still hang in the museum today, eerie reminders of a theft that remains one of the art world’s most notorious unsolved cases.
Extinction Rebellion had planned to stage a “die-in” in the museum’s courtyard and hang three works of art over the empty frames in the Dutch Room, where the stolen Vermeer and two Rembrandts once hung.
“We were going to protest the fact that everyone’s still talking about the heist 33 years after it occurred, yet no one talks about the major loss of biodiversity, the loss of animals, and the extinction event that’s happening,” wrote Extinction Rebellion member Lita Xú Líng Kelley in a blog post. At Saturday’s action, members donned animal masks and fuzzy costumes and held signs and banners stating, “13 paintings stolen; 1 million species stolen,” “Declare Climate and Ecological Emergency,” and “Justice.”
Extinction Rebellion has made headlines for past protests involving art — mostly in Europe — and staged an action earlier this month in front of Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” (1642) at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum issued a statement on Saturday, shared with Hyperallergic, announcing the closure, citing “an abundance of caution for the safety of our staff, volunteers, visitors and collection.”
“Isabella Stewart Gardner envisioned her Museum as a place of sharing art, community and conversation. She was an advocate of all forms of art, as well as the environment, especially horticulture,” Director Peggy Fogelman said in the statement. “While it is our mission to uphold Isabella’s values, we do not support this type of tactic that targets art institutions and could possibly put the Museum’s collection, staff and visitors at risk.” The museum refunded visitors who had purchased tickets for Saturday.