Source: The Guardian (9/26/17)
Guggenheim Museum pulls three artworks featuring animals after threats of violence
Works in an exhibition of Chinese art that included reptiles eating insects and dogs on a treadmill are removed from show in New York following outcry
By Benjamin Haas
New York’s Guggenheim Museum will remove three art pieces from an upcoming show featuring Chinese conceptual artists, amid accusations of animal cruelty and repeated threats of violence.
The museum will not exhibit three pieces during Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World – two videos featuring live animals and a sculpture that includes live insects and lizards – over “concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists”.
The Guggenheim has been embroiled in controversy since the show was publicised, with animal rights groups calling for the the works to be pulled and a chorus of celebrities condemning the museum.
One of the videos, titled Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, is a recording of a 2003 live performance in which two pairs of pit bulls faced each other on treadmills, held back by harnesses so they could never make contact. Over the course of the video, created by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the dogs grow weary and can be seen salivating more and more.
“Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary,” the museum said. “As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art.”
The show’s signature piece Theatre of the World involves an enclosure housing hundreds of insects and reptiles that devour each other over the course of the show. A reference to the animals eating each other was removed from the Guggenheim’s website.
The artist, Huang Yong Ping, withdrew the artwork from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after a local animal rights group requested modifications.
A second video, A Case Study of Transference, made in 1994 by Xu Bing, features a boar and a sow mating, both stamped with gibberish made by mixing Chinese characters and the Roman alphabet and is meant to represent the contrast between complex writing systems and the wild nature of the animals.
The three artworks are a tiny fraction of the roughly 150 pieces that are part of the exhibition, which is set to open in October.
Just last week the Guggenheim defended showing Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, saying it was “an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control”.
“Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance,” it added.
But those comments failed to assuage the anger of animal rights activists, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals saying the performance caused the dogs pain and distress.
“Such treadmills are typical of brutal dog fighting training regimens, and the mere positioning of animals to face each other and encourage aggression often meets the definition of illegal dog-fighting in most states,” the ASPCA said in a statement.
A petition condemning the exhibition had over 550,000 signatures by the time the Guggenheim decided to pull the works and accused the institution of “several distinct instances of unmistakable cruelty against animals in the name of art”.
Only “sick individuals” would enjoy watching Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other and the Guggenheim should not cater to their “twisted whims”, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), wrote in an open letter to the museum.
Celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Richard Marx also accused the museum of animal cruelty.