Public Resource
The Tomato Soup “Controversy”
Anna Pujol-Mazzini, Amy Westervelt, Fredrick Mugira, and Alleen Brown. Drilled
The climate movement is getting more confrontational—is it working? In October 2022, activists with the group Just Stop Oil in the UK threw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s famous painting, “The Sunflowers,” in the National Gallery in London, then glued themselves to the wall under the painting, asking onlookers “What is worth more, art or life?” Within 24 hours most major media outlets had covered the protest in some way. Many covered it multiple times over the course of several weeks. It also inspired multiple copycat actions, with activists throwing mashed potatoes on a Monet in Germany, and pea soup on another Van Gogh in Italy. While the reaction to “Soupgate” seemed over the top, it’s also not terribly surprising that people were upset by it, because shock was the point, according to Dana Fisher, a sociologist. Part of the point of what researchers call the “radical flank” of any movement is to get this sort of reaction.