In mid-October 2022, Phoebe Plummer, a climate change activist from the organization Just Stop Oils faced extreme backlash after they threw soup on Van Gogh’s “Sunflower” painting and glued themself on a wall. They were accompanied by their friend, Anna, whose goal was to bring attention to the negative effects of climate change. Although controversial, their act sparked a conversation that many people had not considered before. How does the art world contribute to climate change?
The art world releases 77 million tons of emissions every year, which is more than the entire country of Australia! One of the main sources of these emissions is the transportation of artworks. Art is usually moved by trucks and sometimes planes, which releases heavy carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The flights taken by the artists themselves to complete their work also contribute to air pollution. Furthermore, art can be extremely wasteful, and the materials used can be toxic to the environment.
Now, museums are finally witnessing the effects of all the carbon emissions and have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint. An artist-led union called Artists Commit has made several reports about carbon emissions, as well as helped artists reach a more climate-friendly plan for their exhibitions. Gitte Orskou, museum director of Modern Museet, plans a focus on close collaborations with local artists, instead of having artwork shipped over to them.
While museums are changing their traditional ways to be more eco-friendly, artists and museums have also been using art to spread the message about the climate change crisis. At the Tate Modern university, a collection of thirty pieces called Photography and Environment is a free public display that highlights humans’ effect on the environment and climate change. Artists have also been trying to find ways to make artwork using materials that don’t harm the environment. Artists Heather peak and Ivan Morison created sculptural spaces and social sculptures made entirely of biodegradable materials that are more sustainable.
The art world is a significant contributor to Co2 emissions in the air, but museums have noticed, acknowledged their part, and are trying to reduce the carbon emissions they cause. Phoebe Plummer was not the first person to recognize the emissions released by museums but successfully brought attention to the crisis. Simply limiting transportation and making biodegradable sculptures have only been implemented in a few museums, but it is a huge step that the art world has decided to take. Taking these steps is important, because what is the point of art if no one is left on Earth to admire it?