VIENNA, AUSTRIA — Austria’s leading art institution – the Leopold Museum in Vienna – has staged an ingenious intervention within its esteemed galleries in a bid to highlight the dangers of climate change on our planet. 15 paintings, including artworks by Gustave Courbet, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, are hanging at an angle in the museum as part of the artistic action: A Few Degrees More (Will Turn the World into an Uncomfortable Place).
In 2022, museums became the arena for the most pressing issue of our time: the climate debate. A desperate way of warning us about the threats of global warming.
A warning that scientists have been issuing for years: an increase of the world’s climate by over 1.5 degrees. Yet most people can’t seem to grasp the significance of this data. This observation was the motivation behind an unprecedented partnership of science with art, which saw scientists from the Climate Change Center Austria (CCCA), team up with the Leopold Museum in Austria’s capital city, and creative agency Wien Nord Serviceplan, to launch the intervention “A Few Degrees More.”
People from all over the globe come to the Leopold Museum to learn about the beauty of our world through an artistic lens, through scenes of breathtaking natural beauty captured on canvas in paintings by iconic Avant-garde and modern artists including Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Gustave Courbet. But this beauty is in danger.
To show that just a few degrees more can turn the world into an uncomfortable place, the creative team tilted the museum’s landscape paintings by the exact amount of degrees that temperatures will rise in the regions they depict. The Curated intervention during the Vienna 1900: Birth of Modernism exhibition (ending on June 26) is designed to raise awareness of climate change.
Together with researchers from the Climate Change Centre Austria, Wien Nord Serviceplan calculated the following: the impact of a global increase in temperatures, how sea levels will rise, trees will vanish, and how biodiversity will diminish. Courbet’s cliffs represent rising sea levels, Schiele’s tree is a metaphor for dying flora, and Gerstl’s garden shows biodiversity.
After 15 paintings in the Leopold Museum were tilted at an angle to represent increasing global temperatures, puzzled museum visitors were bemused about what had happened, generating discussion on social media and leading to extensive media coverage. After a week of leaving visitors guessing, the museum revealed the reason behind the intervention – on prime-time national TV and in newspapers and websites all over the world, on the exact day the UN climate report was published. Coverage included; ABC News, The Washington Post, Süddeutsche Zeitung, China Daily, ZDF, Reuters, Agence France Press, ORF and Buzzfeed.
Educational labels were placed next to the 15 tilted paintings, which led to a website where further information and ways to take action were provided. Additionally, the specially mounted labels next to the paintings encourage visitors to make a change in their own lives, as well as to support measures taken on a political or structural level against the frightening acceleration of climate change.
Wien Nord Serviceplan Chief Creative Officer Christian Hellinger explained the campaign’s goal: “Together with the Leopold Museum and our scientific partners – the climatology experts of the CCCA – we want to raise awareness and more climate consciousness without producing a single poster or other printed forms of advertising. The works of Egon Schiele or Tina Blau-Lang not only turn into metaphors of an environment off- balance, together with informative labels they serve as educational warning signs of climate change instead of being mere projection surfaces of protest.”
Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Director at Leopold Museum, is convinced that a variety of displayed objects in the museum can enlighten visitors about the impact of climate change: “As an educational institution that conveys ideas, the confrontation with the most pressing problems of our society is a central task of the Leopold Museum. The artists of the Avant-garde were also effectively seismographers of their time who examined the human condition and the state of the world in a visionary way. Art museums are places where people can experience the world through the filtered lens of an artist’s vision, and where they often find themselves confronted with topics, ways of thinking and world views that can at times be inconvenient, challenging or provocative. Museums fulfill a sustainable role in society by conserving cultural heritage for future generations, and also through educating. They regard themselves as spaces of inspiration and reflection about our being, and therefore have the potential to positively impact our future actions by making societal phenomena more visible. In that sense, we declare ourselves in solidarity with the goals of the climate movement.”
Claudia Michl, CCCA Head of Office, added “Experience has shown that a simple transfer of knowledge is not causing a satisfactory degree of actions being taken. Collaborations with artists or art institutions such as ‘A few degrees more’ can build bridges because they offer more poignant and more provocative forms and possibilities of engagement with audiences.”
“A Few Degrees More”can be experienced at the Leopold Museum until June 26 as part of the exhibition Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism. Additionally, every Sunday at 2:00 pm, the museum offers free special guided tours teaching about climate change based on the 15 paintings of “A Few Degrees More,” as well as 10 free tours for school children.