Gardner Museum closes on 33rd heist anniversary due to climate protest

Extinction Rebellion planned a “guerilla art installation” in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but the museum got wind of the plan and shut its doors.

Extinction Rebellion Boston activists held a rally outside the Gardner Museum Saturday. They staged a “die-in” and spoke out about their cause.  Courtesy/Lita Xú Líng Kelley

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum remained closed on the 33rd anniversary of its infamous art heist after learning climate activists were planning to stage a “guerilla art installation” in the museum. 

On Saturday, Extinction Rebellion Boston was set to hold a demonstration at the museum protesting biodiversity loss. The activist group had alerted local media of the plan with instructions not to release the information until 1 p.m. Saturday, but the museum apparently got wind of the plan earlier in the day and promptly shut 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 of sharing art, community and conversation. She was an advocate of all forms of art, as well as the environment, especially horticulture,” said Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood director. “While it is our mission to uphold Isabella’s values, we do not support this type of tactic that targets art institutions and could possibly put the Museum’s collection, staff and visitors at risk.”

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

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

“We were going to protest the fact that everyone’s still talking bout the heist 33 years after it occurred… and no one talks about the loss of biodiversity. The loss of animals, the extinction event that’s happening,” said Lemont.

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 out 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 paints us, in the end. No media outlet can suppress truth forever,” Extinction Rebellion said on its event page. 


Organizers said the group’s original demonstration would have been non-violent and non-destructive, and they “did not plan to damage any property whatsoever.” The activists were going to install extinction-themed art pieces over the museum’s empty frames. The artwork would have depicted an hourglass filling with the bones of animals at risk of extinction, with a message reading, “Stop mass extinction: The biggest heist.” 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 Saturday. They staged a “die-in” and spoke out about their cause. (Courtesy/Lita Xú Líng Kelley)

The Gardner museum cited concern over climate activists around the world using museums as a stage to protest the use of fossil fuels. In some cases, those protesters defaced precious artworks, 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 1990 art heist that claimed 13 artworks, worth an estimated total of $500 million. 

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