Our museums and galleries are increasingly finding themselves under pressure over their sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies, and last week this really hit home – as no less than three creative groups organised performances and stunts in the Louvre in Paris, the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and the British Museum in London.

Artivist groups got creative to highlight the hypocrisy and painful irony of using oil and gas money to fund exhibitions and events about our precious natural world and cultural heritage. The message to our museums and art galleries is clear… don’t allow fossil fuel companies to protect their image through arts sponsorship.


[Sp]oiled landscapes at the Van Gogh museum

At the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam the artist collective Fossil Free Culture NL staged a performance of a dying forest devastated by oil spills and extreme weather events last weekend, coinciding with the museum’s current exhibition ‘In The Forest’. While the exhibition celebrates the beauty of ‘unspoiled landscapes’ painted by Van Gogh, Rousseau and Corot, the museum’s sponsor Royal Dutch Shell destroys ecosystems around the world by causing climate change and oil spills. Shell is responsible for thousands of oil spills in the Niger Delta, the Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico, and many other places.

In May, Fossil Free NL Culture made national news with a similar protest performance titled ‘Drop the Shell’, which led to the controversial arrest of eight of the artists involved.


Fake BP staff welcome attendees of British Museum press launch

Performers of the group BP or not BP? acted as BP staff welcoming journalists to the press launch of the British Museum‘s new Scythians exhibition, which is sponsored by the oil company. The performance highlighted the irony of the sponsorship, as a spoof BP sign they put up read: “We’re proud that the warming temperatures resulting from the fossil fuels we extract are helping to unearth these archaeological treasures from the melting permafrost: a welcome upside to the changing climate.” Hundreds of unexcavated Scythian graves in the Altai mountains are under threat from melting permafrost caused by climate change.

Last week, the winner of the BP Young Artist Award at the UK’s National Portrait Gallery publicly donated a portion of the prize money to Greenpeace in protest against his art being used to promote the image of the oil and gas company.


Liberate the Louvre create “oil spill, sponsored by Total”

The collective Libérons le Louvre designed a dramatic oil spill effect at the Louvre Museum for the opening of the European Heritage days. The message? The Louvre needs to choose between protecting our heritage, and protecting Total’s image.

Ask the Louvre Museum to break its ties with Total’s oily sponsorship

We’re pretty sure these won’t be the last pop-up performances scrutinising oil and gas sponsorship of the arts. The only question is – how long will our cultural institutions take to realise the inevitable truth that fossil fuels, and their social licence, are on the way out?