The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston closed early on Thursday, saying that a planned protest by climate activists would’ve posed a threat to the institution.
The museum, which was founded in 1903 and modeled on a Venetian palace, said it had been forced to shutter early on a night when it would’ve normally been open to the public free of charge. Its director, Peggy Fogelman, wrote in a newsletter that she had been informed of an action that was being planned by protestors associated with Extinction Rebellion, a prominent climate advocacy group.
In a statement, the museum said that the protest, which was to deal with biodiversity in the Back Bay region, “would potentially put our collection and community at risk.”
“While we may support constructive efforts to address and elucidate the climate crisis—as do many of the artists featured in our current exhibition, Presence of Plants in Contemporary Art —public discourse entails respectful dialogue in which participants engage by choice,” Fogelman wrote. “We cannot condone tactics that impose risk and confrontation on audiences and objects.”
She said it was “disappointing” that the protesters had chosen a night when the museum offers free admission.
Extinction Rebellion had previously planned to hold a climate-related protest at the museum in March. The action was canceled when its administrators closed the museum early to thwart the protest.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, known for being the site of one of the most infamous art heists in history, still displays the empty frames from which paintings were stolen in the 1990s. According to a statement on Extinction Rebellion’s website, demonstrators planned to mount artworks within those vacant spaces, located in the museum’s famed Dutch Room. The aim was to bring awareness to the loss of biodiversity in the area.
In a statement on Twitter, Extinction Rebellion said, “Yesterday we planned a regenerative field trip to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. We openly welcomed community members to peacefully enjoy the collection, wearing t-shirts featuring original art linking the loss of 13 paintings from ISGM to the loss of > 1 million species.
“Since those 13 art pieces vanished into the night, more than 1 million species of animals and plants are currently on the brink of extinction. Each of them a piece of art created by nature. The loss is staggering.”
The group, and other activist organizations abroad, have flocked to art museums for stage protests, calling on cultural leaders to acknowledge the risk factors climate change poses to the preservation of historic property. From London to Madrid, from Potsdam and Florence, activists have targeted works by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet as well as historic sites.