Climate change activists defaced the beloved Edgar Degas sculpture ‘Little Dancer’ in Washington D.C. on Thursday. The iconic statue, which has been a fixture outside the National Gallery of Art for over 30 years, was smeared with paint by protesters who claimed to be drawing attention to the issue of climate change.
Protesters smeared paint on the case and pedestal of Edgar Degas’s “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” sculpture in the National Gallery of Art in D.C. to bring attention to the climate crisis and demand that President Biden declare a climate emergency. https://t.co/FWiuFqJzId pic.twitter.com/8AQkeIWlQH
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) April 27, 2023
Joanna Smith, 53, from New York City, and Tim Martin, 54, from North Carolina, were identified as the two activists. Smith said, “We need our leaders to take serious action, to tell us the truth about what’s happening with the climate.”
In 1881, Edgar Degas debuted his only public sculpture, “The Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”, which was initially criticized for being ugly but praised for its realism and revolutionary mixed media approach. The sculpture depicts a student dancer from the Paris Opera Ballet, representing the difficult tension between art and life, and was a groundbreaking work in the evolution of sculpture by liberating the use of any medium necessary to convey the desired effect.
The National Gallery of Art released the following statement on Friday:
Today a priceless work of art in our collection, Degas’s original wax Little Dancer, was attacked by protestors with swaths of red and black paint. After attacking the Degas sculpture, they made statements about climate issues.
The work was displayed in a plexiglass case and has been taken off view so that our expert conservation team can assess potential damage to it. Gallery 3, where Little Dancer was on display, and several connecting galleries on the ground floor of the West Building were closed for the remainder of the day. As of Friday, April 28, gallery 3 has reopened.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation, which is still active.
We unequivocally denounce this physical attack on one of our works of art and will continue to share information as it becomes available.
The safety and security of our staff and visitors and of our collection remain our highest priority.
-Kaywin Feldman, Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington