Action Against Oil Sponsorship

The Munch Museum was recently the scene of a climate-activist performance stunt.

Direct Action Theatre, performance at the Munch Museum 15 November 2021. Photo: D.A.T.

On the night of 15 November, the façade of the new Munch Museum alternately sported the words “Munch has blood on his hands” and “Munch is turning in his grave.” The projection – which was certainly not commissioned by the museum itself, but part of an action by the artist group Direct Action Theatre (D.A.T.) in collaboration with the relatively new gallery Høg Standard – also showed the logos of the three oil companies Idemitsu, Aker BP, and Equinor. There was no doubt, then, that the protest was aimed at the museum’s links to the oil industry.

The small bridge between the Opera and the Munch Museum was the scene of the work’s theatrical component, in which four men dressed as riot police with shields adorned with the aforementioned oil company logos formed a wall to protect themselves from a stark-naked man who repeatedly ran towards and threw himself at them in a brutal, yet comical and ultimately useless battle against superior forces. The naked man obviously represented Edvard Munch and his art; he initially wore a ‘Scream’ mask, then a mask of Munch’s face taken from one of his most famous self-portraits.

Direct Action Theatre, performance at the Munch Museum 15 November 2021. Photo: D.A.T.

The action was part of D.A.T.’s ongoing series ‘Serve and Protect’, and later that evening the group also carried out a performance in front of the Parliament building, where the four men clad in riot police uniforms stood shoulder to shoulder and brushed their teeth with extreme thoroughness. Behind them, the façade of the Parliament building featured a huge projection of Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre accompanied by the headline: “Forgive them not / They know what they do” and the subheading “I have looked my two grandchildren in the eyes / and said that I will do everything I can.” The latter is a quote from Støre, who promised climate action as he was about to take over as prime minister. The preamble to the performance stated that “Jonas must wash his mouth,” and the fierce brushing of teeth was probably intended as a demonstration of how he might go about that.

This part of the action was presented as a response to the Støre administration’s unwillingness to take decisive action against climate change during the recently concluded United Nations climate change conference COP26 in Glasgow. In a press release, Høg Standard refers to the 2021 report ‘The Fossil Fuelled 5. Comparing rhetoric with reality on fossil fuels and climate change’ by Freddie Daley (University of Sussex) and the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative. In the report, Norway is highlighted alongside the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and Australia as a prosperous country with a high degree of responsibility for the climate crisis – and one of the countries in the world with the largest gap between rhetoric and practice. Even as these five countries officially promote the 1.5-degree climate goal, they are pursuing policies that run counter to this goal. The report points out that in 2021 alone, the Norwegian government issued more than sixty licenses for fossil fuel production and offered eighty-four new exploration zones on the Norwegian continental shelf including the North Sea, the Barents Sea, and the Norwegian Sea.

Direct Action Theatre, performance at the Parliament 15 November 2021. Photo: D.A.T.

While Idemitsu and Aker BP are among the Munch Museum’s sponsors, the museum is not directly sponsored by Equinor. However, the company does fund the Edvard Munch Award, which was presented in 2015, 2017, and 2019, to Camille Henrot, Kerstin Brätsch, and Lawrence Abu Hamdan, respectively. In addition to NOK 500,000 (EUR 51,000), the prize consists of an exhibition in the new museum. The first prize exhibition featuring Camille Henrot is scheduled for the autumn of 2022.

Kunstkritikk has not succeeded in gaining access to the Munch Museum’s sponsorship agreements with the oil companies Idemitsu and Aker BP. The request for access to the documents “Sponsorship funds” and “Annual accounts 2020” was rejected on the grounds that the documents “deal with requested information from the auditor as well as documentation regarding audit control” applying to auditing during the period 2016 to 2021. Munch Museum’s management has not responded to questions from Kunstkritikk regarding the extent to which the museum is dependent on sponsor support from these companies.

However, the annual report for 2020, available on the museum’s website, states that out of the total operating costs of NOK 252.3 million (EUR 25.6 million) in 2020, 49.6 million (EUR 5 million), or 19.6 per cent, were covered by the museum’s own revenues, while 202.8 million (EUR 20.6 million) came from the City of Oslo. Presumably, the museum’s “own revenues” include all income that does not come from the city, meaning income from sales, private and public funding, as well as sponsorship funds. The same annual report also states that sponsorship income in the amount of NOK 6.8 million (EUR 690,000) has been earmarked for opening and promoting the new museum in 2021, but does not specify which of the museum’s sponsors has contributed funds, nor how much they have each contributed.

Direct Action Theatre, projection on the Munch Museum 15 November 2021. Photo: D.A.T.

Documentation from D.A.T.’s performance will be on display in Høg Standard’s window gallery at Waldemar Thranes gate 70 in Oslo from 18 to 26 November.