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The week in art news – climate activists attack Velázquez painting at the National Gallery

10 November 2023

On 6 November, two members of the climate activist group Just Stop Oil targeted The Toilet of Venus, more commonly known as the Rokeby Venus (1647–51), by Diego Velázquez at the National Gallery in London. The glass protecting the painting was struck with what appear to be emergency rescue hammers, though the museum has confirmed that minimal damage was caused to the canvas. The same painting, which depicts the Roman goddess lying with her back facing the viewer, was slashed seven times by the suffragette Mary Richardson on 10 March 1914 and subsequently restored – an attack to which Just Stop Oil paid direct homage on social media.

The director of the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, Laszlo Simon, has been removed from his post for allegedly violating a law, passed by Orban’s government in 2021, that prohibits the promotion of LGBT material to under-18s. The museum’s annual World Press Photo exhibition, which is currently on view, includes a series by Hannah Reyes Morales depicting elderly LGBT+ people in the Philippines. In a Facebook post on 6 November, Simon insisted that the museum ‘has not deliberately violated any law’, and pointed out that the institution had complied with an order to deny entry to minors.

On 5 November, a Russian missile and drone strike damaged the Odesa National Fine Arts Museum. The collection of more than 12,000 works has largely remained unharmed thanks to the evacuation of most of the collection in February 2022; damage to the building is still being assessed, though videos posted online by the city council show a crater in front of the building, shattered windows and galleries strewn with debris. In a statement, the institution listed seven exhibitions that ‘due to damage to the museum, we can no longer exhibit.’ The Ukrainian museum is one of ten buildings in the historic centreof Odesa to have been harmed during the attack.

After more than two years of negotiations, members of the Brooklyn Museum’s union ratified its first contract by an overwhelming majority on 8 November, averting a strike that had been planned to begin on the same day. The new contract includes a pay rise of more than 23 per cent, a raise in minimum pay rates and guaranteed annual increases. It also extends healthcare benefits to part-time staff, reduces the employee share of healthcare premium costs, and establishes an annual $50,000 fund for professional development.