The three works were among the nearly 150 making up the upcoming exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” which will open to the public next Friday.
One video-based work, “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” created by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, shows pit bulls, who were trained to fight, tethered to treadmills that face each other. The dogs run without ever being able to reach the dog they face. Eventually, they grow weary and are seen panting and salivating at increasing levels. The seven-minute video is a recording of a 2003 live performance, the Guardian reported.
Another work, “Theatre of the World,” is a table outfitted with a translucent dome. Inside, hundreds of insects and reptiles ranging from locusts to cockroaches to lizards wander about while a bright lamp shines on them. They are all fighting for survival.
“During the three-month exhibition some creatures will be devoured; others may die of fatigue. The big ones will survive,” the New York Times reported. “From time to time, a New York City pet shop will replenish the menagerie with new bugs.”
The third work, titled “A Case Study of Transference,” is a video showing a boar and a sow having sex. Both animals are stamped with gibberish symbols, a mix of Chinese and Roman characters.
Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, sent an open letter to the museum Monday criticizing the works and asking the museum to remove them. In the letter, she wrote that all of the animals, including the cockroaches and centipedes, “experience every emotion that you, I, and our beloved dogs and cats do.”
“People who find entertainment in watching animals try to fight each other are sick individuals whose twisted whims the Guggenheim should refuse to cater to,” Newkirk wrote.
An online petition decrying the three works had gained more than 700,000 signatures as of early Wednesday. It read:
Help us send a message to the Guggenheim by signing this petition. Let them know that animal cruelty holds no place in art in the United States, nor should it anywhere in the world. This assault on animals in the name of art will not be tolerated or supported. Guggenheim — please do what you know in your heart is right. Take a stand with our animal cohabitants of this planet, and pull the pieces employing these cruel methods from your upcoming show.
The museum’s decision to remove the works was met with both praise and derision.
Newkirk sent a follow-up note to the museum, thanking it “for withdrawing these vile acts of cruelty masked as creativity, because abusing animals should never be taken lightly and the museum is not a circus but a temple of fine art.”
PEN America, an organization that works to defend free expression, called the decision “a worrying precedent.”
“That threats of violence became grounds for the cancellation of the works represents a major blow to artistic freedom,” it said in a statement.
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