Collage of several scenes from Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's video Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other.

Chinese Conceptual Artists’ Video at Guggenheim Museum Incites Animal Rights Activists

Matthew Haag reports in the New York Times that a video set to be included in an exhibition opening next month at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York is causing an outcry and inciting calls for the work to be pulled from the show. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s video Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is a seven-minute clip of a performance from 2003 where eight American pit bulls were each placed on a treadmill, so that the treadmills hold the animals back from contact as they charge at one another. There is currently a petition circulating to promote “cruelty-free exhibits” at the museum.

The artists themselves addressed criticism of the piece some time ago, with Peng saying, “Where is the soft spot in all of this?” She also questioned the claims of animal cruelty: “Were the dogs being abused? The answer should be no. These dogs are naturally pugnacious.”

The exhibition that will include the piece, “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” opens October 6, 2017, and will feature about 150 works by Chinese artists who work in a broad range of media, from Land art to painting and photography. The show will run for three months, and a statement released by the Guggenheim addressing the controversy is as follows:

The video work Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is included in “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World”—an upcoming exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum of more than 150 works of conceptual and experimental art that explores the end of the Cold War, the spread of globalization, and the rise of China.

The work is a seven-minute video of a performance that was staged at a museum in Beijing in 2003, during which dogs were placed on non-motorized treadmills facing one another and prevented from making contact. Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance and the presentation at the Guggenheim is in video format only; it is not a live event.

Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an 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.