Climate group Extinction Rebellion says Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is wrong for closing

Climate group Extinction Rebellion Boston says the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is wrong for closing its doors due to fears of potential damage that may arise during protests.

The museum shuttered its evening hours Thursday because of a protest Extinction Rebellion had planned, which museum director Peggy Fogelman claimed “would put our community and collections at risk.”

“The group sought to insert their own artworks into the empty frames in the Dutch Room as one element of their protest,” Fogelman wrote in a letter Thursday. “These frames are not only important and fragile historic objects in their own right, but they memorialize the tragic 1990 theft that deprived our public of the opportunity to enjoy unique masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and others.”

Extinction Rebellion shot back against that belief in a public statement on Friday, saying no member “intended to put art in the empty frames … nor did we ever announce a plan to do so.”

The group said it had publicly advertised the event for weeks on its website, with members planning a “peaceful regenerative field trip” so they could view the museum’s collection and discuss “parallels and divergences of loss between the 13 paintings stolen during the Gardner heist in 1990 and the loss of over 1 million species since that day.”

“This event was, publicly and honestly, planned to be in no way destructive to the museum, its collection, its staff, or its guests,” part of the statement reads. “We do not understand the museum’s decision to close their doors citing our organization without reaching out to us beforehand, or without properly reading our website material on the event.”

Fogelman highlighted how her decision to shut down the museum Thursday morning is the second time she’s had to close the facility “in response to such an event by this activist group.”

The first closure came earlier this year, on March 18, 33 years to the day that the 13 works of art, worth at least $500 million, were stolen from the museum.

“While we may support constructive efforts to address and elucidate the climate crisis,” Fogelman stated, “public discourse entails respectful dialogue in which participants engage by choice. We cannot condone tactics that impose risk and confrontation on audiences and objects.”

Extinction Rebellion said participants were ready to mark the 33-year anniversary by hanging original art in the empty frames, “after researching how to accomplish this action with no damage to museum property.” But Fogelman decided to close before it got the opportunity to do so.

The group reiterated it has never intended to protest the museum, but rather, has wanted to use it as “a conversation-starter.”

“The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is not, and never will be, a target for XR Boston,” the group wrote. “This issue of biodiversity loss is so much bigger than all of us that it would be absurd to pretend otherwise.”

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