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French Museum Removes Work from Exhibition, Following Backlash on Social Media

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon, France, has pulled a video work by the Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed, which features several tethered chickens that appear to be on fire, after a public outcry. Activists criticized the work on social media, calling it “animal torture.”

Ironically, the video was made as a statement against animal cruelty, and the chickens starring in it were not harmed. The museum announced that it consulted with the artist following the strong reaction it incited online, and he ultimately decided to withdraw the piece. Titled Spring, 2013, the work was included in the exhibition “The Antidote,” which opened on March 8.

Even though special effects were used to create the fire that appears to be engulfing the chickens, the museum installed the piece in a separate room from the rest of the works in the exhibition and posted signage that warns viewers of the content before they enter.

This is not the first time Abdessemed has come under fire for featuring animals in his works. In 2008, the San Francisco Art Institute closed the artist’s solo exhibition, “Don't Trust Me,” early, after people threatened the institution’s staff with violence and sexual assault for exhibiting a video that showed six animals being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer by farmers in rural Mexico. The piece was a commentary on the differences between food production in third- and first-world countries.

The uproar over the work comes months after a similar controversy at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The institution took down three artworks before the opening of its exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” in October 2017, following a severe backlash from animal rights activists—people picketed in front of the museum, launched a petition demanding the removal of the works, and threatened violence against the museum’s staff. After the Guggenheim pulled the works, it was criticized by a slew of artists and other cultural figures who thought the move would start a “chilling effect” and that the museum should not have allowed demonstrators to dictate the content included in the show.

One of the works that was targeted, Xu Bing’s A Case Study of Transference, 1994, which consists of footage of two tattooed pigs mating in front of an audience, recently entered the Guggenheim’s collection after it was gifted to the museum by an anonymous donor.