After a video in the upcoming exhibition “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” which opens on October 6 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, sparked protests and widespread criticism from animal rights activists, the institution has decided to remove the work, as well as two others, from the show.
The controversial piece, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, 2003, consists of a seven-minute video clip of a 2003 performance at a museum in Beijing in which eight American pit bulls aggressively charge one another while on treadmills. Even though the dogs are not able to reach one another, activists are arguing that the work is an example of animal cruelty, which has no place in art.
In addition, the institution decided to omit its signature piece, Theater of the World, 1993. The work would have featured hundreds of insects and reptiles in an enclosed octagonal space, which over the course of the exhibition would have preyed on each other. A video of two pigs having sex in front of an audience, A Case Study of Transference, 1994, will also be excluded from the show.
In response to the aforementioned works, critics launched an online petition, which was signed by more than half a million people by Monday, September 25. Demonstrators demanding “cruelty-free” exhibits also gathered outside the museum over the weekend. According to the Guggenheim, it ultimately decided not to show the pieces “out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors, and participating artists.”
“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,” the museum said in a statement. “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.”
Billed as a “major exhibition of contemporary art from China spanning 1989 to 2008,” “arguably the most transformative period of modern Chinese and recent world history,” the show features contributions from more than seventy artists and around 150 experimental artworks that focus on the geopolitical dynamics at the end of the Cold War, the spread of globalization, and the rise of China. According to the museum’s website, it is “the largest show of this subject ever mounted in North America.”