Guggenheim pulls works from China exhibition following animal rights protests

Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, 'Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other' (2003). Image: Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Habana

New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has announced that it will be removing three works from its upcoming exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World after protests by animal rights groups, who have complained that the works condone cruelty to animals. The show is set to open on 6 October.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the museum stated that it had decided against the three works, ‘out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors, and participating artists’. The statement notes that ‘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.'

Peng Yu and Sun Yuan’s video Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003) documents a performance staged in Beijing where pit bull dogs were harnessed to treadmills and set opposite each other, leading the dogs to attempt to attack each other; Xu Bing’s video A Case Study in Transference(1994) depicts two pigs, one tattooed with words and phrases in English and the other with Chinese characters, in the act of mating; and Huang Yong Ping’s installation Theater of the World (1993) comprises a wooden complex of spaces into which insects and reptiles are introduced. The animals prey on each other in course of the work’s display.

The nature of the threats made against the museum have not been detailed. Protesters demonstrated outside the museum over the weekend, while both People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) issues statements condemning the works’ inclusion in the exhibition. The ASPCA’s statement declared that 'the ASPCA fully supports artistic expression, but strongly oppose any use of animals in art or entertainment if it results in pain or distress to the animals.’ PETA, meanwhile, declared that ‘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.’

The museum’s statement concludes: 'As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art. Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.’

27 September 2017