Line Drawn Between Creative Expression and Cruelty as Guggenheim Reluctantly Pulls Live Animal Works

Line Drawn Between Creative Expression and Cruelty as Guggenheim Reluctantly Pulls Live Animal Works

Over the course of last week, animal rights activists bombarded the Guggenheim Museum with criticism over its new exhibit, “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World.” Three pieces within the exhibit, “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” “A Case Study of Transference,” and “Theater of the World” featured animal exploitation that led to widespread controversy about the artists’ unconventional methods said to portray messages of power, violence, and humanity.

Protesters physically swarmed the museum in central Manhattan and created an online petition that garnered over 770 thousand signatures. The petition declared “controversial art that breaks barriers and challenges social norms” should  “NOT include the promotion of cruelty against innocent beings.”

The museum initially tried to placate critics by releasing a statement asserting “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.”

However, by Monday, the Guggenheim conceded to protesters’ demands to remove the pieces from the exhibit, albeit unwillingly and with little understanding of the pieces’ potential for harm. The museum published yet another statement claiming that “repeated threats of violence” from protesters “have made our decision necessary,” and that it was “dismayed that we must withhold works of art.”

“Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” created in 2003 by Peng Yu and her husband, Sun Yuan, was the first piece to come under fire. It features four pairs of American pit bulls, all purposely bred for dogfighting, harnessed to non-motorized treadmills and placed within inches of each other so that they will never make direct contact. The dogs run and lunge at one another in a practice that is traditionally used as fight training. After several minutes on the treadmills, the dogs’ muscles quiver noticeably, and they begin to foam at the mouth.

The piece is supposedly meant to “examine and critique systems of power and control,” and while originally shown live, the Guggenheim intended to display a video recording of a previous exhibition.

Although Peng Yu and Sun Yuan did not respond to LadyFreethinker’s request for comment, Ms. Peng has previously contributed to the stigma surrounding pit bulls and their demeanor, and claimed that “these dogs are naturally pugnacious.” Her comment and artwork reflect the blatantly false notion that all pit bulls are violent and aggressive, which often leads to humans regarding them with fear, scorn, and even more violence.

“A Case Study of Transference,” by Xu Bing

“A Case Study of Transference” (1994), by Xu Bing, was also to be featured in the form of a video recording. The piece includes two pigs, stamped with nonsensical English words and Chinese characters, mating in front of a live audience. Mr. Xu also did not return requests for comment, but has indicated the piece is meant to showcase the complex relationship between China and the western world. It is unclear what type of ink or dye the pigs are stamped with, and whether or not it also contributes to the lack of regard for the pigs’ well-being.

“Theater of the World” by Huang Yong Ping

Huang Yong Ping’s titular piece, originally created in 1993, has been the subject of criticism in several countries for its use of animal cruelty to represent society’s hierarchy. After Mr. Huang refused to comply with requests from animal rights groups in British Columbia, he pulled the piece from a 2007 exhibit. “Theater of the World” involves a variety of live insects, arachnids, and reptiles confined to a wooden and mesh enclosure; some animals will be devoured by their natural predators, and others will perish from stress or fatigue. Traditionally, the dead animals are replaced over the course of the piece’s exhibition. Mr. Huang also did not return requests for comment.

While animal rights activists have won this round, artists and critics worldwide continue to side with the Guggenheim on the grounds of freedom of speech and creativity. They unfortunately fail to realize that artists who are unable to relay important messages and spark complex conversations without exploiting innocent parties are simply creating bad art. Art is certainly meant to be original, unorthodox, and even unpopular, but never without the explicit consent of willing participants.

Note: Please keep comments peaceful and family friendly.

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  1. Sue

    MY question is: WHAT happened to those dogs after the EXPO? They are scarred up. Were they sent back to the dog fighters? Why weren’t the authorities called to find out where the dogs came from, and where they went afterwards?

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  2. Phyllis

    Perhaps Mr. Huang should be placed in a cage with a hungry lion. The example of hierarchy should be just as clear.

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  3. Nancy Yeeting

    I know art and this is NOT art.People should not visit the Guggenheim,to send them a message .the world cannot allow anymore animal abuse.It has been hell for them.Do not support anyone who can’t even see that those exhibits are WRONG.

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  4. Lizzie Fuller

    This is progress , at last !! However , it is clear that the animals were not respected in any way – and it makes a mockery of what art is for . What has happened to the animals since the exhibition ?? The way spectators are calmly photographing the hideous exhibit is appalling – and shows that they are regarding these living creatures as “pieces for art ” – to be abused at will .
    This is NOT art !!!!!! It is an abhorrent abuse of animals by ignorant , cruel people , who are shaming art !!!!!

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  5. Leanne

    I am all for freedom of soech but not when it involves cruelty to animals or himans. I am glad that the Guggenheim Museum was forced to close down this horrific exhibit. Shane on them for allowing it in the first place.

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  6. Ernie Jay

    Why not put tethered children, reaching for candy or toys on one side of a platform, separated a few feet from a naked, fully aroused, child abusing, sex offender on the other side, also tethered, but obsessively reaching, and masturbating, call it “art” and justify it by claiming that no children were hurt? Art may be provocative and uncomfortable, but a line is crossed if/when activities that are felony offenses in most of the civilized world, are portrayed and promoted as valid.

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    The total irony of this whole so called “art exhibition” is that there is no one more narrow minded, blinkered & utterly pretentious than the actual so called artist & those who host these “exhibits”.
    For Me, all this “artist” has proven to the Western world is just how cruel the Chinese really are. The Western world has yet another reason to Boycott China after being proven right yet again about what a barbaric race they really are! The Chinese are incapable of enjoying anything that doesn’t involve the public torture of live animals! The animals are the ones who always are forced to suffer at the hands of a race who are devoid of empathy, morality or conscience!
    I know there are some great animal rights activists & even dog lovers in China but I fear this pretentious shit posing as an artist reflects the overall lack of emotion, thought for others that the Chinese have as a majority. Boycott China!

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  8. ruth ludgater

    It is tragic that some people cannot understand the difference between Art and Animal Cruelty and must be told by others.

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  9. Ellen C.

    As an artists I’m ashamed of Guggenheim. I’ve seen a lot of stupid and ridiculous things exhibited as art but this is the worst. It is clearly an example of humans and how they oppress whatever they can get away with. It doesn’t surprise me that it’s Asian artists. Just goes to show you that a countries spiritual beliefs do not reflect the people. Why can’t humans leave animals out of their portrayal s of their own character. Animals would never do something like this.

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  10. Monica

    guggenheim should never have allowed it to have been a “ART PIECE” in the first place they are better than that!!!!!

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  11. Monica

    well they are chinese what do you expect from the people of that country they are cruel to animals and have no animal welfare whatsoever ashamed of those so called chinese artistes and guggenheim should never have allowed to have them in the first place animals are not art they have souls they are eternal beings!!!!!!

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    • Liliane Papin

      Well, the exhibit took place in the US!!! promoted by one its most famous museums.
      Let’s not turn our condemnation of violence to animals into another violence, meaning racism and generalization. We have plenty of torture to be ashamed of in the US…Guantanamo for one. We, inhabitants of this planet, all share the same inclinations of violence or kindness. Lady Freethinker embodies compassion. Let’s keep it that way. Racism and hate against any nation or race does not have a place here.

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  12. Cassandra

    These art works are intellectually pretentious and show the creative limitations of the artists.

    Reply Report comment
  13. David Rose

    This is not art ffs, it is animal cruelty! Sad humans getting a thrill from watching animals suffer. Pretentious bastards.

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