Not everyone is excited for the commencement of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London this month. Staff at the National Gallery have announced in a statement to The Guardian that they will stage a strike beginning on the first day of the games, causing the gallery to contemplate reducing its hours just in time for the onslaught of tourists heading to England. The planned picket is in response to an ongoing disagreement between the gallery and its staff members who believe the institute is not adequately addressing its security needs in time for the big event.
This is the fourth time staff members have walked out on the gallery in response to security issues, the most notable of the strikes occurring during last year's highly trafficked exhibition of a large collection of Leonardo da Vinci's work. Gallery assistants banded together in opposition to the security cuts enacted by the National Gallery. The gallery succumbed to government pressure to reduce its budget by 15% and instead of posting one gallery ward in every room, it decided to station one assistant for every two rooms, amounting to what gallery assistants claim is a blatant vulnerability to damage or theft.
The new security arrangement may be a less than ideal situation for a gallery that's already been the victim of several acts of vandalism. In July of 2011, a man spray-painted Poussin's "The Adoration of the Golden Calf" and "The Adoration of the Sheperds," and earlier that year, a woman attempted to rip a Paul Gauguin from the gallery's walls. A painting by Bartholomeus van der Helst was also splattered with a damaging substance in 2006 by an elderly gentleman with a history of art vandalism. Even the toilets are targets for crime, as a man with an odd penchant for the loo managed to walk out with four stolen toilet seats.
And now with the Olympics steadily approaching, staff will be expected to operate a new security and bag search procedure that they believe will exacerbate the already insufficient security. Yet despite past criminal occurrences and the latest indictments made by staff members, the National Gallery has stated to multiple news sources that their security is comparable to that of other major national and international galleries and museums, emphasizing to The Guardian that the staffing arrangement is an "effective and reliable" form of protection against vandals and thiefs. In fact, the gallery turns the finger of blame on staff, pointing out that CCTV footage shows vandalism occurring directly in front of a gallery assistant.
With no end to the strikes in sight, the gallery is facing the possibility of partially closing its premises during the Olympics. One spokesman initially told The Guardian that the closure of some rooms will be inevitable, but a subsequent announcement stated that room closure will depend on how many staff members participate in the walk-out, now planned for two hours on four of the busiest days of the year for the gallery: July 27th, July 28th, August 4th and August 11th.
So for all of you trekking out to London later this month, make sure to check the gallery's schedule before deciding to spend your Olympic downtime viewing art. In the meantime, let us know what you think of the ongoing feud in the comments section below!