Gardner Museum closes on 33rd anniversary of robbery due to climate protests

Extinction Rebellion Boston activists held a rally outside the Gardner Museum on Saturday. They staged a “die-in” and spoke about their case. Courtesy/Lita Xu Ling Kelley

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remained closed on the 33rd anniversary of its infamous art theft after climate activists planned to stage a “guerrilla art installation” in the museum.

On Saturday, Extinction Rebellion Boston was to hold a demonstration at the museum to protest the loss of biodiversity. The activist group had alerted local media to the plan with instructions not to release the information until 10 p.m. 13 on Saturday, but the museum apparently found out about the plan earlier in the day and immediately closed its doors.

The museum released a statement saying the decision to close for the day was made out of an abundance of caution for the safety of staff, volunteers, visitors and its art collection.

“Isabella Stewart Gardner envisioned her museum as a place for art sharing, community and conversation. She was an advocate for all forms of art, as well as the environment, especially horticulture,” said Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood director. “Although it is our mission to uphold Isabella’s values, we do not support this type of tactic that targets art institutions and could potentially endanger the museum’s collection, staff and visitors.”

Museum ticket holders were refunded on Saturday. The museum said it would reopen Sunday.

Extinction Rebellion Boston spokesperson Susan Lemont told that activists never intended to shut down the museum, nor did organizers plan to damage any artwork.

“We wanted to protest the fact that everybody is still talking about the robbery 33 years after it happened… and nobody is talking about the loss of biodiversity. The loss of animals, the extinction that’s happening,” Lemont said.

In light of the museum’s closure, the activists instead held a rally outside the Gardner Museum. At that event, activists staged a “die-in” and spoke about their cause.

“We will not stop calling for climate justice. We will not stop putting ourselves between the powerful and the vulnerable. We know how history draws us in the end. No media can suppress the truth forever,” Extinction Rebellion said on its event page.

Organizers said the group’s original demonstration would have been nonviolent and nondestructive, and they “did not plan to damage any property whatsoever.” The activists were to install extinction-themed artworks over the empty frames of the museum. The artwork would have depicted an hourglass filled with the bones of animals at risk of extinction, with a message that reads: “Stop mass extinction: The biggest robbery.” Activists wearing animal masks also planned to stage a “die-in” in the museum’s central courtyard.

Extinction Rebellion Boston activists held a rally outside the Gardner Museum on Saturday. They staged a “die-in” and spoke about their case. (Courtesy/Lita XΓΊ LΓ­ng Kelley)

The Gardner Museum cited concern that climate activists around the world were using museums as a stage to protest the use of fossil fuels. In some cases, these protesters defaced precious works of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and other works by Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet.

Saturday marked 33 years since the museum’s unsolved art theft in 1990 claimed 13 works of art worth a total of $500 million.

There is a $10 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the works. Tips can be submitted to the FBI’s Art Crime Team by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or visiting


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