Why Are People Throwing Food at Priceless Works of Art?

In the past two weeks, protesters have gone after a Van Gogh with tomato soup and a Monet with mashed potatoes.

Claude Monet's Grainstacks, The Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's Sunflowers
Photo: Claude Monet's Grainstacks / Alamy; Mona Lisa / Alamy; Van Gogh's Sunflowers / Getty Images

The fight against climate change appears to have a new front line: art museums. And the weapon of choice, surprisingly enough, is food.

For the second time this month, European protesters threw food on a priceless piece of art — and posted video of the incident online, of course — to raise awareness of the perils of climate change. Yesterday, two protesters believed to be with the German group Last Generation were arrested after tossing mashed potatoes on the Claude Monet painting "Grainstacks" at the Barberini Museum in Potsdam. The artwork was purchased at auction in 2019 for over $110 million and is displayed behind protective glass, which the museum said prevented any damage.

"People are starving. People are freezing. People are dying," one of the protesters began after both glued their hands to the wall beneath the art. "We are in a climate catastrophe, and all you are afraid of is tomato soup or mashed potatoes on a painting. You know what I'm afraid of? I'm afraid because science tells us that we won't be able to feed our families in 2050."

Their "tomato soup" comment references a similar protest that took place on October 14 when members of the British group Just Stop Oil opened cans of tomato soup in front of Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers" at the National Gallery in London and flung the contents at the artwork, which is reportedly valued at around $81 million. In this instance, the protesters also glued their hands to the wall, but again, protective glass prevented any permanent damage to the painting.

Why people are throwing food at priceless works of art
Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

"What is worth more, art or life?" one of the protestors asked. "Is it worth more than food, worth more than justice? Are you more concerned about the protection of a painting or the protection of our planet and people?"

Both recent protests also have similarities to an incident at the Louvre in Paris in May where a man threw cake at the "Mona Lisa." During that less-formally-organized protest, the man didn't appear to have an associate filming him and didn't have any prepared remarks, but while being escorted from the museum, he spoke in French, saying, "Think of the Earth! There are people who are destroying the Earth! Think about it. Artists tell you: think of the Earth. That's why I did this."

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