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The attack on The Girl with the Pearl Earring is the provisional low point of Instagram madness.

A temperature record will be broken in the Netherlands on 28 October. Yet another, and it is indeed incomprehensible that on this day people still book a plane for a weekend in Barcelona. It is sadly also incomprehensible that on this 27th October 2022, a young man sticks his head next to Vermeer's The Girl with the Pearl Earring in protest against all of us climate laxity.

Of course, it's just a sheet of glass in front of the Girl with a Pearl Earring, so the physical work of art is not damaged. Yet this young man crossed a life-threatening line, because he damaged the essence of the artwork. And thus declared that essence of any work of art outlawed. Precisely because of that own head.

Action Tomato

So far, I could smile smugly at the angry reactions from people inside and outside the industry to climate activists and their cans of tomatoes. The seconds glue mostly hurts their own selves, and we are used to something when it comes to performance art. After all, we are also a generation that cherishes theatre after Action Tomato.

You know, that action of theatre science students throwing real tomatoes and rotten eggs at real actors in the theatres of 1969. Even though real careers and personalities were hurt for good then to an action aimed at the art world itself.

Tons of CO2

But why stick your own head next to The Girl with the Pearl Earring? What do you want to say with that? From what primal urge does that stem? Are you as important as this unique painting? Do photographers have to capture your head next to the girl? Wasn't it enough to do what your colleagues did, by suggesting damage, as meta-art?

I fear that, on the contrary, we are dealing with a provisional culmination of the instagram narcissism that turns everyone into a photo model and causes countless data centres around the world to burn tonnes of CO2 to keep storing the same picture with a different head in front of it on hard drives over and over again. Not to mention the NFTs that are the latest hype in this pseudo-art world. One will surely be coined from this unique picture.

Unique selfies

Because that is what this action makes us aware of: the real, more than unique art of Vermeer, the canvas of which only one exists, has now been made the object of attack for a representative of a generation for whom - unfortunately - nothing is unique any more. Who sees every time on his phone that same selfie in a view in Nepal that he himself photographed, but with someone else's head in the foreground.

With this, the goal is no longer the climate and what we do about it, the goal is to capture one's own very temporary head next to something far above it. Because this is the most unique selfie in centuries. World Press Photo Material. No one can make the same picture.

Until the instagram herd moves in. I am suddenly afraid of that. Very scared.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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