Protesting at the NGV

In Extinction Rebellion’s most recent exhibition at the NGV, two activists glued their hands to the bulletproof acrylic covering over a Picasso painting, Massacre in Korea. (See the ABC News report and read Dr Catherine Strong, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion on the reasons for the protest.) It is part of a tradition of protests at the gallery that goes back to Ivan Durrant’s Slaughtered cow happening in 1975.

Hijacking a state-owned platform to make an emergency broadcast about the climate catastrophe seems fair. Especially given the number of times the state government has used the NGV to promote its message. Part of the function of a state art gallery is to portray the state as cultured and reasonable even when they are cruel and destructive.

This is not the first time that Extinction Rebellion has used the NGV. In 2019 Extinction Rebellion held a Last Supper, a dinner party as sea levels rise with a table floating in the gallery’s moat.

Here is a timeline of some of the other protests at the NGV this century. (Please let me know of other protests at the NGV that I’ve missed in this short time line.)

In 2005 a young artist, Lucas Maddock, navigated a boat made of salvaged scraps in the NGV’s moat to protest the Australian government’s treatment of refugees for a video work titled Refugee. The video was exhibited in an exhibition of VCA students’ work at the Margaret Lawrence Gallery. (See Art Right Now)

In 2012 street artist CDH’s Trojan Petition was dumped in the forecourt and taken inside the gallery for display. (See my post) 

In 2017 Picasso’s Weeping Woman was covered with a black veil in a protest against Wilson Security. (See ABC News)  Also, in 2017, red dye was added to the water wall and moat in the campaign by artists again in protest against the NGV employing Wilson Security who “violently enforcing the imprisonment of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres”.

No art was damaged in any of these protests, only the pride of the NGVs security.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

7 responses to “Protesting at the NGV

  • J Mackinnon

    Clever protesting ‘The cause/s’…Love it.
    Should be more of it, ESPECIALLY if the present Labor Party of Vic continues to ‘flaunt’ THEIR agenda from this PUBLIC Space!!
    And as long as no art or property is damaged then what a great come-uppance!
    AND! adding a moment of unusual humour to the place!! 😂🤪

  • Dianne Colk.

    In 1975, I an Durrant dumped the carcass of a slaughtered cow in the forecourt of the NGV as a comment about meat eaters who were horrified at the killing of animals.

  • Dougall

    What about Piss Christ? It was attacked with a hammer when hanging at the NGV. The art work was damaged and the protest was succesful.

    From here..

    “Piss Christ found itself at the centre of controversy once again in October 1997, when Melbourne was host to two exhibitions of the work of Andres Serrano. Serrano’s History of Sex was showing at the Kirkcaldy Davies Gallery while the National Gallery of Victoria was holding a Serrano retrospective, coinciding with its high profile Rembrandt exhibition. As part of the Serrano retrospective, Piss Christ proved to be of more than historical interest when once again it became the subject of a number of attacks. The first attack came from the Catholic archbishop of Melbourne Dr. George Pell who, considering the work to be blasphemous, applied unsuccessfully for a Supreme Court injunction to prevent the National Gallery of Victoria from exhibiting the work. But where the gavel failed the hammer of two youths succeeded, by prompting Dr Timothy Potts, the director of the NGV, to cancel the show. Dr Potts claims that he acted out of concern for the safety of his staff, although the general opinion seems to be that he acted hastily primarily out of anxiety for the Rembrandts.”

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