Jackson Green, an activist from Utah, has been arrested and charged with defacing a memorial to Black Civil War soldier at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC last autumn.
According to a recently unsealed indictment, Green, a member of the environmental activism group Declare Emergency, walked into the NGA carrying red paint on 14 November 2023. He used the paint to write the words “Honor Them” on the wall next to Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial (1900), a monument in patinated plaster to one of the first all-Black regiments enlisted to fight in the US Civil War. His actions reportedly resulted in over $700 worth of damages.
In a statement at the time, Green drew parallels between the sacrifices of the Shaw 54th Regiment fighting to end slavery in the 19th century and groups on the front lines of the climate crisis in the 21st century. “Joe Biden must declare a climate emergency in their honor,” Green said, “because the great majority of the people who are being harmed by the climate emergency now and who will be harmed in the future are people who look like the soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the NGA said: “The National Gallery of Art appreciates the efforts of the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI in handling this serious act of vandalism.”
This is not the first legal encounter between members of Declare Emergency and the NGA. In April 2023, Joanna Smith and Timothy Martin, alleged co-conspirators from North Carolina, smeared paint on the case and base of Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Age Fourteen, in addition to striking the case several times. The NGA removed the sculpture from public display for ten days, and officials claimed that it cost the museum over $4,000 in conservation repairs.
Smith pleaded guilty to one count of causing injury to an exhibit at the NGA last May. US District Court Judge Berman Jackson scheduled Smith’s sentencing for 3 April 2024. A trial for Martin is scheduled for 26 August 2024.
Green’s case, which is currently under investigation by the FBI, represents yet another instance of “eco-vandalism”, or climate activism targeting works of art. In the last two years, a multitude of high-profile actions by climate advocacy groups like Just Stop Oil have focused on famous works at some of the world’s most popular museum, including the soup-splattering of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre, have attracted enormous media attention, leading to larger questions on the efficacy of these strategies.