By Julia Kemp
In mid-October of 2021, an out-of-the-box protest at London’s National Gallery of Art made headlines and went viral on social media. Climate activist Phoebe Plummer, along with the group Just Stop Oil, threw a can of tomato soup on Van Gogh’s infamous painting, Sunflowers. Plummer, a 21-year-old UK student, claims that they committed such an unusual and bizarre form of protest “to grab people’s attention—it hasn’t been done before, and it was something new.”
Though the protest certainly grabbed the attention of the public, many questioned the methods and morality of the act. Critics on social media argue that the act was disrespectful to Van Gogh’s legacy. The artist, who infamously suffered from extreme mental illness and endured a life of poverty and misfortune, was caught in the crossfire of this protest. However, the painting was protected by glass, and no lasting damage remained resulting from the soup. According to Plummer, Just Stop Oil chose that specific painting because “it’s a beautiful work of art and I think a lot of people, when they saw us, had feelings of shock or horror or outrage because they saw something beautiful and valuable and they thought it was being damaged or destroyed.” While no art-lovers want to witness such a priceless and historic beauty damaged so humiliatingly, the protesters aimed to stir a feeling of destruction and horror in witnesses; if so many people can be outraged by the destruction of art, why can’t they be equally outraged by the destruction of our planet?
The soup-covered canvas in London certainly gained the headlines that Just Stop Oil aimed to receive, however critics around the world are still trying to decide whether the protest truly got the right message across.