Extinction Rebellion members protest outside the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on September 7. (photo courtesy Lita Xú Líng Kelley)

BOSTON — The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston closed early Thursday evening, September 7, in response to a planned demonstration by the Boston chapter of the climate advocacy group Extinction Rebellion (XR Boston). 

In a statement shared with Hyperallergic, the museum cited the action and potential risk to its collection and community as the reason behind the closure. The planned protest coincided with the museum’s monthly First Free Thursday program, where admission is free after 3pm.

“While we may support constructive efforts to address and elucidate the climate crisis — as do many of the artists featured in our current exhibition, Presence of Plants in Contemporary Art — public discourse entails respectful dialogue in which participants engage by choice,” Gardner Director Peggy Fogelman said in the statement. “We cannot condone tactics that impose risk and confrontation on audiences and works of art.”

XR Boston had planned a similar demonstration at the Gardner in March of this year to coincide with the 33rd anniversary of the infamous art heist in 1990, during which two men stole 13 works by artists including Rembrandt and Johannes Vermeer. Activists planned to hang art in the empty frames to draw attention to the loss of biodiversity. The details of this demonstration were leaked to the media, according to XR Boston, which prompted the early closure of the museum. The group posted Thursday’s plans on XR Boston’s Instagram and X accounts around 1pm.

Activists said they hoped to use the museum as a platform to “discuss the loss of more than 1 million species from our planet.” (photo Karolina Hać/Hyperallergic)

The group insists they are not protesting the museum itself, but rather using the space to raise awareness about the urgency of the climate crisis. “The Gardner Museum is a conversation-starter,” members of XR Boston told Hyperallergic. “XR Boston wants to use this platform to discuss the loss of more than 1 million species from our planet since those paintings disappeared.”

For Thursday’s planned demonstration, organizers said they had scaled back their plans. “Our intention was to enjoy the museum but also make a subtle statement by wearing special t-shirts,” noted Julia Hansen, a media liaison for XR Boston. The group intended to hand out fliers to museum visitors. With the change in plans and police presence at the museum entrance, the activists convened in the adjacent Evans Way Park, holding up a banner that read “Declare Climate and Ecological Emergency” and distributing fliers to passersby.

The Gardner alerted visitors with tickets for First Free Thursday about the closure earlier Thursday afternoon, and individual ticket holders can request a voucher to visit the museum on a future date of their choosing.

When asked why the group returned to the museum, action organizer Jule Manitz, who helped plan Thursday’s demonstration, said, “[Isabella Stewart Gardner], I’m convinced, would have been part of Extinction Rebellion if she was alive today.”

Karolina Hać is an arts writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston. She is an editor at Boston Art Review, where she covers art and design in New England. Her writing and other projects...

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