Environmental activists have once again targeted a famous work of art in a major museum. The members of Riposte (Food Counterattack), threw soup on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Paris. This incident follows other similar incidents, including mashed potatoes being thrown at a Monet painting in Germany and oil being splashed onto a Klimt painting in Vienna.
Da Vinci’s artwork was not damaged because it was behind bulletproof glasses. In fact, many environmentalists deliberately target high-profile works they know will not be damaged and are well protected. But that’s not always the case.
Over the years people have attacked artworks in different ways. Sometimes it was due to mental illness, other times as a protest, or even with the intent of creating a brand new work of arts. It’s difficult to deny the attention that vandalism can garner. After all, we’re talking about it. Here are seven instances where artworks were vandalized, either as a protest or to promote art.
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01. The Mona Lisa
The recent incident at Louvre is not the first. The Mona Lisa may be the most famous painting in the world. It is therefore not surprising that it has been attacked the most.
Lisa Giocondo, a poor girl, was sprayed with paint and doused in acid in 1956. In 1974 she was attacked with spray-paint. The 1974 attack was largely unsuccessful and took place while the painting was touring at the National Museum, Tokyo. It was a protest of crowd control measures disability activists deemed discriminatory. The museum set aside a special day for disabled visitors in response to the fine.
In 2009, a Russian woman who was denied French citizenship threw a cup of tea from the Louvre shop at the painting. And, in 2022, an environmental campaigner smeared the Mona Lisa with cake. Yes, that bulletproof glass is for a good reason.
02. Van Gogh’s sunflowers
Another recent attack carried out by environmental protesters targeted Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London during Frieze Week 2022. Again, soup as the weapon of choice was chosen and the painting was left unharmed because it was protected by glass. Just Stop Oil protesters chose the painting for its protection.
03. Picasso’s Guernica
Recent attacks on artworks have often been motivated by environmental protests. Paintings have been targeted to protest a variety of issues throughout the years.
Tony Shafrazi, who was an early dealer of art by Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, spray painted “KILL LIES ALL” on Picasso’s Guernica while it was on long-term loan at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The act was meant to protest the release of William Caley who had been convicted for the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. The painting was not permanently damaged because of its thick layer of varnish.
04. Mondrian’s composition with Red, white and blue
Vomit, not paint or soup, was the culprit in one of most bizarre cases of vandalism. In 1996, Canadian art student Jubal brown vomited over Piet Mondrian’s Composition in Red, White and Blue in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, saying that the work had been so ‘lifeless,’ it made him sick.
At least, he respected Mondrian’s title. He ate blue Jell-O and blue cake icing to make sure his vomit was bright blue. It turned out that he did have form. He had thrown up red vomit on a Raoul Dufy at a Toronto art gallery. He was planning a yellow third work, but changed his mind.
Brown said later that he did it to subvert the bourgeois culture. He was quoted saying, “I go to a gallery with a stomach full of colour and whatever inspires inspires me.” “It is very simple and direct.”
05. The White Cross
It’s not known whether Brown considered that his vomiting was art. But there have been numerous cases of artists ‘creating dialogues with’ other artists’ work in order to create a work they believed to be new.
In 1997, the performance artist Alexander Brener scrawled a green dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich‘s The White Cross. He was sentenced to five months in prison as a result. Brener said in his defense: “The dollar sign is a symbol for trade and merchandise, while the cross is a representation of suffering. What I did was in no way against the painting. I see my action as a dialogue between Malevich and myself. The painting was restored.
06. Duchamp Fountain
Not only vomit has been used to attack works of art. in 1993, French performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli urinated in Marcel Duchamp’s famed Fountain. To be fair, it’s a urinal. So, it was probably inevitable that someone tried. Brian Eno has also claimed to have dripped on Duchamp’s “readymade”. Pinoncelli took a hammer and damaged the piece as well, earning him a month in prison and a large fine. He was not deterred and tried again in 2006 at the Centre Pompidou, chipping the Fountain, I mean urinal. This required restoration work.
07. How Ya Like Me Now by David Hammons
Some artists have even accepted attacks on their work. David Hammons’ How Ya Like Me Now? It is a portrait depicting the Black politician Jesse Jackson with white skin. The artist intended to challenge race-perceptions. The large piece, which was displayed in Washington in 1989, was attacked with sledgehammers by people who misunderstood what the artist was trying to do.
Hammons, after the piece was repaired, decided to include the sledgehammers in the work by placing them around it. Hammon may have sympathized with the attackers, having ‘intervened with’ other artists’ works in the past. He urinated onto Richard Serra’s T.W.C sculpture to create a photo series called “Pissed Off”.
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