The Guggenheim Removes Controversial Animal Artworks from Exhibit Following Outcry

The Guggenheim Museum will be removing controversial animal artworks from its upcoming Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World exhibit, which opens October 6 and features work by contemporary Chinese artists. A preview of the show was featured in the New York Times. Readers learned that a seven-minute video by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s called Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other featured footage of dogs running on (non-motorized) treadmills. From the Times:

The seven-minute video shows four pairs of American pit bulls tethered to eight wooden treadmills. The camera closes in on the animals as they face each other, running at high speed. The dogs are prevented from touching one another, a frustrating experience for animals trained to fight. The dogs get wearier and wearier, their muscles more and more prominent, and their mouths increasingly salivate.

The piece was first shown with the actual dogs appearing before an audience at the Today Museum in Beijing in 2003.

“The piece was so special, it stood out,” Ms. Peng said. “The art critics didn’t know what to say.”

A different video by artist Xu Bing featured pigs mating, covered in ink and temporary tattoos. The title installation of the show features hundreds of live insects and reptiles, which would eventually eat each other.

Protestors and online petitions quickly rose in numbers, demanding the works be removed from the Guggenheim. The museum agreed to comply “out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.”

But not everyone agrees with the decision. Artist and activist Ai Weiwei told the Times: “When an art institution cannot exercise its right for freedom of speech, that is tragic for a modern society. Pressuring museums to pull down artwork shows a narrow understanding about not only animal rights but also human rights.” Hyperallergic’s editor-in-chief Hrag Vartanian took to Twitter about the issue. No specific threats have been reported by the Guggenheim at this time.