Climate activists splash black oil on a Klimt painting in Vienna

Gustav Klimt’s painting “Tod und Leben” is seen after activists from Last Generation Austria (Letzte Generation Oesterreich) poured oil on it at the Leopold Museum in Vienna, Austria, November 15, 2022.

Letzte Generation Oesterreich | via Reuters

On Tuesday, climate activists in Austria attacked a famous painting by Gustav Klimt with a black oily liquid, and then affixed one of them to glass protecting the frame of the painting.

Members of the group Last Generation Austria tweeted that they had targeted the 1915 painting “Death and Life” in Vienna’s Leopold Museum in protest of their government’s use of fossil energies.

After spilling liquid on the painting, which was not damaged, one of the activists was pushed away by a museum guard while another activist taped his hand to the glass above the frame of the painting.

The group defended the protest, saying in a tweet that it was protesting against “oil and gas exploration”, which it described as a “death sentence to society”.

In a video of the incident, which the group posted online, one of the activists can be heard shouting, “We’ve known about the problem for 50 years – we must finally act, or the planet will break.”

“Stop the destruction of fossil fuels. We are racing towards climate hell,” he added.

After the attack, police arrived at the museum and the black liquid was quickly cleaned from the glass protecting the painting, the Austrian News Agency reported.

The agency stated that despite the strict controls at the entrance to the museum, the activists succeeded in getting the liquid inside by hiding it in a hot water bottle under their clothes.

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The museum’s restoration team later said that although the painting itself was undamaged, the damage to the glass and security frame, as well as the wall and floor, was “obvious and significant,” APS reported.

Climate activists’ fears are justified, Hans-Peter Weiblinger, director of the Leopold Museum, told APA, “but attacking works of art is certainly the wrong way to implement the intended goal of preventing the expected climate collapse.”

He implored the group to find other ways to voice their concerns.

The Austrian Minister of Culture also expressed his understanding of the “concerns as well as the desperation” of the activists, but criticized the form of their protest.

Andrea Meyer said: “I don’t think such actions are purposeful, because the question arises whether they do not lead rather to a greater lack of understanding than to raise awareness of the climate catastrophe.”

“In my view, accepting the risk of irreversible damage to works of art is the wrong way to go,” the minister added. “Art and culture are allies in the fight against climate catastrophe, not adversaries.”

Klimt’s work is an oil on canvas painting in the Art Nouveau style depicting Death on the left side and a group of partially nude and embracing people on the right side. It is one of the latest pieces of art targeted by climate activists to draw attention to global warming.

Various activist groups have staged several demonstrations in recent months, including blocking streets and throwing mashed potatoes at a Claude Monet painting in Germany.

British group Just Stop Oil threw tomato soup into Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” exhibition at London’s National Gallery last month.

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Just Stop Oil activists have also attached themselves to the frame of an early version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper” at London’s Royal Academy of Art, and John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” at the National Gallery.

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