How to differentiate a vandal from a visitor? Art museums are in trouble.

And sometimes a barrier between a painting and its audience is contrary to the spirit of the work. Mabel Tapia, deputy artistic director of the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, said she would never allow that collection’s masterpiece, Picasso’s 1937 anti-war masterpiece ‘Guernica’, to be displayed behind glass. It was “a symbol of freedom and the fight against fascism”, she added.

Tapia said she had recently redeployed security guards so they could focus on large-scale work – something she routinely does in times of protest – but she felt she couldn’t do big – something more. “The only measure that would actually do anything is if we closed the museum,” Tapia said, “and we’re not going to.” Museums are meant to be places where people meet to think about important issues, she added. “We have to keep them open.”

There was “no magic bullet” to deal with the protests, said Read, the insurer. Museum administrators had only to hope that protesters were reminding “distinguished middle-class liberals” who took action to avoid permanent damage, he added.

Florian Wagner, 30, the Last Generation member who threw the black mixture on Klimt’s painting at the Leopold Museum, said by telephone that he knew before the protest that the work was protected by glass. He practiced the stunt five times at home, he said, and was confident it wouldn’t disfigure the paint. “We’re not trying to destroy beautiful works of art,” Wagner said, but to “shock people” into taking action on climate change.

He wouldn’t be organizing any more protests, he said, adding, “I think I’ve made my point.” But he said he was sure others in Austria and across Europe would continue. Actions will only stop, he added, once governments “act on this crisis”.

Elizabeth Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.

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