Home Arts Climate protesters who targeted the Degas sculpture in the US National Gallery of Art face jail time

Climate protesters who targeted the Degas sculpture in the US National Gallery of Art face jail time

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Timothy Martin and Joanna Smith, the two protesters who in late April smeared paint on the protective casing and base of an Edgar Degas sculpture at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC, risk up to to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 each.

The two protesters were both accused conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and causing damage to NGA property. Charges were filed by Cameron A. Tepfer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Martin, a resident of North Carolina, and Smith, a resident of New York, both surrendered on Friday, May 26.

“The National Gallery of Art appreciates the excellent and prompt work of the US Park Police, FBI and US Attorney’s Office in bringing these serious criminal charges,” an NGA spokesperson said in a statement.

In the April 27 demonstrationMartin and Smith whitewashed the display case containing the 1880 wax sculpture The little fourteen-year-old dancer (Fourteen year old dancer) with red and black paint before sitting in protest in front. They were quickly handcuffed and detained.

The group Declare Emergency, which has organized various actions and protests around Washington, DC, calling for more urgent changes to address climate change, took responsibility for the action.

“THE little dancer is a portrayal of a vulnerable 14-year-old girl who worked at the Paris Opera. Degas’ portrayal of her is stunning and has been seen by millions, but the little dancer apparently disappeared after posing for Degas,” reads a statement published on Declare Emergency’s PageInstagram. “As the little dancermillions of little girls and boys will have no future because our leaders failed to act decades ago when they should have and continue to drag their feet to stop the climate catastrophe fueled by the fossil fuels that engulfs us all.

The protest targeting the NGA’s Degas sculpture was the first high-profile incident in a US museum of a type of climate protest this has happened with some frequency in UK and European museums since the spring of 2022. These protests have tended to involve activists sticking to the frames of famous paintings or throwing substances at their protective glass.

Although no works have been seriously damaged by these protests, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has declared its opposition to all displays of climate activism that target art. In a statementICOM said protesters “seriously underestimate the fragility” of the works and that museums should be “key players in initiating and supporting climate action”.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges Martin and Smith’s protest caused approximately $2,400 in damages. Degas’s sculpture was removed from display for ten days while repairs were carried out.

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