First off, since the exhibition won’t open until Oct 9, the protesters so far are mostly reacting to the reports from critics who previewed it, such as the NYTimes article “Where the Wild Things are: China’s Art Dreamers at the Guggenheim,” which drew overwhelmingly ferocious comments after it was published a few days ago. I have to say that those previews I have read are extremely poorly written, with minimum efforts to contextualize those animal works, and they should be partially responsible for the outrage.
Also, the works Guggenheim shows are far from the most radical or “cruel” performance art that involved the use of animals (for a comprehensive survey of those works, see Meiling Cheng, Beijing Xingwei: Contemporary Chinese Time-based Art, 2013), and all the three removed works have been exhibited in many other art institutions internationally, often causing controversy but never ending up being censored. In comparison, the intolerance New Yorkers have demonstrated is rather embarrassing.
In order to judge (not to mention condemn) an artwork, you need to at least see it first, and the protesters here are basing their outrage on nothing but some brief, crude verbal description. Actually, once the visitors see and sense the visceral power of those works, they may very well think differently; they may even become more curious about a culture that has a somewhat different ethics regarding the welfare of living beings. To pull out those works before they had a chance to be seen is really a shame, and Guggenheim should really think hard about–and articulate better–the rationale behind its actions, both in selecting those works and in removing them.
Chang Tan <email@example.com>
Department of Art History, Penn State University