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Does some art deserve to be attacked by climate activists?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So we've talked before on the show about how climate change activists are targeting works of art. NPR's Neda Ulaby asked how that looks to an art critic.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Over the past few months, soup has been thrown at a Van Gogh, orange paint sprayed all over a Charles Ray sculpture in Paris, black gunk on a Gustav Klimt in Vienna. And on YouTube, you can see climate activists taping themselves to a couple of artworks by Goya at the Prado in Madrid.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

ULABY: Critic and author Blake Gopnik says this suggests that art is not irrelevant.

BLAKE GOPNIK: It matters to people in a way that really surprises me as an art critic. I mean, you know, this stuff is supposed to be esoteric.

ULABY: But art in museums is accessible. Where else can you walk right up to something so symbolic of the establishment and let everyone know exactly what you think of how the rich spend their resources? Billionaires pay hundreds of millions of dollars for works like these at fancy auction houses. And wealthy tourists fly around the world to see them.

GOPNIK: Art has a kind of celebrity status that it's never had before.

ULABY: Every art lover, Gopnik included, is aghast at the potential damage to cultural treasures. But he's also aghast at the damage being wreaked upon the world. These works of art may not deserve to be attacked by climate activists, Gopnik says, but perhaps that's not true of all of them.

GOPNIK: There are works of art that I wish somebody would attack. But I ain't going to go on the record about that, I don't think.

ULABY: Oh, come on.

GOPNIK: OK. I will go on the record. How about if someone attacked a Beeple?

ULABY: A Beeple. Beeple is the artist whose NFTs made headlines last year because they sold for so much money. One was auctioned for $69 million even though NFTs rely on environmentally unfriendly blockchain technology.

GOPNIK: If they could get a hold of the $69 million Beeple and throw some food at it, I actually wouldn't complain.

ULABY: Getting a hold of a Beeple might be impossible for climate activists. But when they target works of extraordinary art, Blake Gopnik says, they remind us of everything we have to lose.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.