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The Guggenheim is in Hot Water Half-a-Million Animal Rights Activists

Rob Grams Rob Grams

The Guggenheim is in Hot Water Half-a-Million Animal Rights Activists

Over 400,000 people have petitioned against a yet-to-open Guggenheim exhibit. Animal rights activists say it “glorifies animal abuse” but does it? You decide. Here’s everything you need to know. 

Postmodern art can be confusing to the uninitiated. Work often blurs the line between art and socio-political statement, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. What constitutes art, and not, is far beyond the purview of a humble SecretNYC blog post, but when one of the most important institutions in the city falls foul of animal rights activists that is definitely worth talking about.

As of writing this post, 589.896 people have signed a petition demanding that the Guggenheim Museum removes pieces from an exhibit that has not yet even been opened. According to the petitioners, the exhibit contains video footage that “glorifies animal abuse.”

The exhibit in question is called “Art and China After 1989.” The highly-anticipated exhibit is scheduled to open on October 6 and stick around for 3-months. The New York Times reported that it includes 150 pieces by experimental artists between 1989 and 2008, but the nature of some of the pieces is leaving animal rights activists fuming. In their own words:

In one example, artists Peng Yu and Sun Yuan tether four pairs of American pit bulls to eight wooden treadmills for a live exhibit. The dogs are faced off against one another, running “at” each other but prevented from touching one another, which is a stressful and frustrating experience for animals trained to fight. The dogs get wearier and wearier, their muscles more and more prominent, and their mouths increasingly salivate. At this live 2003 “performance” in China, a video was recorded, complete with close-up shots of the dogs’ frantic, foaming faces. This 7-minute video will be on display at the Guggenheim exhibit […]

In another example, artist Xu Bing stamped meaningless characters all over the bodies of two pigs, a boar and a sow, who were put on display, mating, in a museum exhibit in Beijing in 1994. The Guggenheim will feature the video of that “performance” as well.

Those are the videos that are causing a stir, but there is a live “performance” that has also caused anger among activists. Live reptiles, amphibians, and insects are housed in a glass enclosure for the duration of the three-month exhibit. Some of the creatures will be eaten by other animals in the enclosure, others may die of starvation and or fatigue, a la survival of the fittest. Think natures hunger game.

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We’re not here to tell you whether we think these pieces constitute art or not, rather get your opinion:

In a statement released by the museum last week in response to the initial public outcry on over “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” video, the museum defended the work, saying the piece is:

“intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control […] We recognize that the work may be upsetting, […] The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”

“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” will debut next month at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1071 Fifth Avenue), we’ll keep you posted as the story develops.

Featured image source []