Can’t you see that our future is melting?
While away I wrote a science fiction novel called Shipworld. The just-finished novel chronicles the 360-year journey of a generation spaceship containing 600 humans in flight from an Earth in deep ecological crisis. Also onboard are two non-fictional artworks. One is a rare Olmec Head, now squatting in a museum in Jalapa, Mexico, and the other is Albrecht Durer’s 522-year-old self-portrait, hanging without fanfare in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
About these two treasures, which play key roles in the story, I’ve done a great deal of thinking. I’ve stood before them, gazed and wondered. I suppose I’ve fallen in love with them. Nonetheless, they’re just things. I'd gladly accept their desecration – as well as the destruction of entire museums full of Monets and Rothkos and Rembrandts and O’Keeffes – if it would help jolt us from our climate-action slumber. New art can always be made, but the damage caused by climate change on our living planet is effectively irreversible over the next several hundred years. By the way, a spokesperson for Just Stop Oil recently stated that they may soon start slashing paintings for real, “in order to get their messages across.”
When that happens, I'll still say good for them.
First problem: the posed question wasn't just about food on art. It referred to "disruptive non-violent actions including shutting down morning commuter traffic and damaging pieces of art." Anyone with a car knows that getting stuck in traffic on the way to work is a very different kettle of soup than learning about a fake attack on some stuffy artwork you've probably never seen in person. Hold on, there's a second problem here. The question implies that the artworks were actually damaged, when they were not.
Third problem: who exactly are these 46 percent of Americans whose deep and abiding desire to take action against climate change is suddenly squashed because they don't want to be on the same team with a bunch of snot-nosed kids causing a fuss at the Met? Such an association, presumably, makes them feel squishy, and so they jettison their beliefs that were built on solid research and facts. Oh, c'mon! These 46 percent, as the survey data indicates, are primarily white, older Republicans and Independents whose supposed support for climate change action was either a lie or thin as tissue paper. Permit me to suggest this headline: Fancy Ivy League Survey Shows that Americans Who Barely if at All Support Climate Change Action Profess Even Less Support After Hearing About Non-violent, Disruptive Climate Change Protests.
Maybe it's kinda cool that 13 percent of respondents reported increased support for addressing climate change. Maybe a bunch of these folks weren't hippies already. But it's definitely not cool that Michael Mann, a luminary in the climate change movement and director of the aforementioned center at Penn, goes to great lengths to defend the study and its popular interpretation. After all, his kind of activism is writing books and giving congressional testimony. That's all good, if largely ineffectual. Mann might consider that unorthodox, even destructive climate action could play an effective role in the great climate fight that's building -- even if it makes him uncomfortable. He may want to cut the kid activists some slack.
Lime Green Icicle Tower first came to the MFA in 2011 as part of a Chihuly exhibition; folks liked it so much that the MFA took up a collection. Schoolchildren, so goes the legend, dropped their pennies in a box next to the sculpture. Add in a major gift from Donald Saunders (fashion tycoon and husband of Liv Ullmann) and soon the Chihuly was purchased for an undisclosed price somewhere beyond million dollars. Hmmm, I wondered at the MFA bar, how could those climate protestors effectively employ Lime Green?
Fling chocolate syrup at it, using squirt guns or turkey basters. Hurl anti-latkes at its pointy branches. No, too easy to clean up. Lime Green isn’t protected by glass; it’s made out of glass. How about a drone strike? Bam, right through the Baron's elegant roof into the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard. No, too messy. Collateral damage and all that. They could smuggle in a chainsaw. Gas or electric powered? Either way, thrum, thrum, just saw the artsy, pseudo-tree down. What, you got a problem? This bothers you, while Greenland melts and the Amazon burns? This gets your dander flying while the parts per million measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide hits 418 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii? Maybe attach a Mission Impossible device which creates a vibrating wave that resonates up and down the sculpture and shatters it apart! Even better, if only Yoshitomo Nara’s giant and very expensive fiberglass puppy – 20 yards away in the courtyard, the gift of local billionaire and Dexter Shoe heir Theodore Alfond – would amble over, lift its back leg and pee on Lime Green, issuing forth a stream of corrosive Pop-Art puppy juice that causes the tower’s icicles to go limp and fall away. Happy Hanukkah!
I haven't shared these musings with Elahna. She generally frowns on my flights of anarchic fancy.
Both prole and plutocrat stare at the same paintings, sculptures, and engraved Paul Revere punch bowls, and it may be the only thing they have in common. It may be their sole point of intersection. Ultimately, the art museum is where, outside of banks and gated compounds, the money is. And so it becomes the most available place to strike back at the ultra-rich, to threaten what they care (or pretend to care) about. In these climate-controlled, exquisitely lit rooms, patrolled by lowly paid security personnel, eco-activists are signaling disdain for the elite's ridiculously high carbon lifestyles (the average carbon footprint in the top one-percent is 75 times higher than in the bottom 50 percent) as well as their nihilistic embrace of a devasted future from which they expect to be wealth-insulated. Here, at the MFA and Tate and Guggenheim, the Masters of the Universe can be vicariously humiliated, a little bit, for their callous disregard.
Nara’s little girl with the knife behind her back? Soon she'll be slashing paintings, and good for her.