Eco-protesters pour black liquid on Klimt painting in Vienna museum

Activists of the "Last Generation" spilt a black, oily liquid on the Klimt painting "Death and Life" in the Leopold Museum in Vienna on Tuesday.

Eco-protesters pour black liquid on Klimt painting in Vienna museum
Activists throw oil at a Klimt paying in Vienna on November 15th, 2022 (Screenshot)

Climate activists poured oil on Gustav Klimt’s “Death and Life” painting in the Leopold Museum on Tuesday, social media posts by the protest group “Last Generation” show. 

The museum has confirmed the incident, saying, “We can only hope that the painting was not damaged”.

“Restorers are working to determine whether the painting protected by glass has been damaged,” Klaus Pokorny, spokesperson for the Viennese Leopold Museum, told AFP.

In a statement, the activists wrote: “We need immediate measures against #ClimateBreakdown NOW. Lowering the speed limit to 100km/h on highways costs nothing to implement, saves 460 million tons of CO2 per year in #Austria alone and leads to less noise, better air quality and safer roads.”

“What are we waiting for?” the group wrote on a Twitter post.

READ ALSO: How will climate change impact Austria?

“Stop the fossil destruction” can be heard in the video posted by the group. The activists are protesting against new oil and gas drilling.

“We’re racing towards a climate hell. For 50 years, we’ve known the problem. Emissions are at an all-time high. Heat waves. Droughts. Agriculture will stop working”, one of the activists shouted during the action.

Another activist, who glued himself to the protective glass in front of the picture, said: “Companies like OMV, for example, sponsor this exhibition. They want to wash their slate clean with such subsidies, just like the tobacco industry did back”.

Leopold Day

To commemorate the death of Leopold III, an Austrian prince, the homonymous museum had free admission on November 15th, sponsored by the Austrian oil and gas giant OMV. 

Despite strict controls, such as bags not being allowed inside, the activists were able to smuggle the liquid in a water bottle under their clothes, the newspaper Der Standard reported.

Police and museum security were present and could be seen containing the activists. Several rooms had to be closed to visitors as the protesters spoke with the authorities on site.

Der Standard added that the liquid had already been wiped away from the glass after the incident.

READ ALSO: How expensive are gas and electricity in Austria right now?

Numerous masterpieces across Europe have been attacked in recent weeks in protests at the lack of action against climate change. They have glued themselves to a Francisco Goya in Madrid, thrown soup at Vincent van Goghs in London and Rome, and mashed potatoes on a Claude Monet.

In the wake of the protests, dozens of the world’s top museums issued a joint declaration last week saying environmental activists who attack paintings “severely underestimate” the damage that could be caused. 

READ ALSO: ‘I feel ripped off’: What it’s really like living in Austria right now

The statement was spearheaded by the Prado in Madrid, and signed by the directors of more than 90 world-renowned museums including the Guggenheim in New York, Louvre in Paris and Uffizi in Florence.

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Heed the reed: thatcher scientist on mission to revive craft

Once upon a time many homes in the picturesque Burgenland wine-growing region of eastern Austria were thatched.

Heed the reed: thatcher scientist on mission to revive craft

But now Jacobus van Hoorne’s house is the only one in the entire neighbourhood with a reed roof. And to get it approved he had to do battle for two years with the local authorities, culminating in having to set fire to a model thatched house to prove that his home wouldn’t be a fire hazard.

“You are practically not allowed to have reed roofs in Austria,” said Van Hoorne. “You have to find a way around it, which took a long time.”

Buoyed up by his legal victory, the CERN particle physicist turned thatcher hopes to revive the ancient art as a part of more sustainable house building — particularly as his reeds come from the region’s UNESCO-listed salt-water lake. 

“It’s not just a natural raw material, but it also has great insulating properties,” he told AFP. “A roof like that… is only made of reed and (steel) wire. It’s completely untreated. You can just compost it and recycle the wire.

“The nature, the material, the craft. It’s just beautiful,” he added.

A reed roof lasts about 40 years, said the Dutch-born scientist, and unlike conventional materials whose manufacture requires lots of carbon to be burned, reeds actually help store it.

Carbon captors

Like straw and earth they have an almost negligible carbon footprint, said Azra Korjenic, head of the Department of Ecological Building Technologies at the Vienna University of Technology.

In fact, marshlands and moors where reeds grow are some of the planet’s main carbon sinks, surpassing even forests and grasslands, according to the 2015 Soil Atlas.

Yet one of the biggest stumbling blocks to sustainability is the construction industry, which favours prefab building modules over ecological materials, Korjenic added.

Current regulations and norms are also hampering the inclusion of natural building materials.

As Austria’s only master thatchers, Van Hoorne and his father are in high demand, and they also farm their own reeds locally.

But even that is not easy because of low prices and droughts which stunt the reeds’ growth as the climate warms, he said.

He and four other remaining reed farmers in Austria also face crushing competition from China, which has an 80 percent share of the European market.

With his customers for now mostly in England and the Netherlands, “shipping a container from Shanghai to Rotterdam costs around $2,000 — just as much as a truck from Austria,” he said.