New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of Art has been accused of supporting animal cruelty after broadcasting an upcoming exhibition titled, “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” The exhibition includes a caged-arena where, “…hundreds of live reptiles and insects devour each other over the course of the show,” and a performance video by Peng Yu and Sun Yuan titled, “Dogs Which Cannot Touch Each Other.” It is a performance in which four pairs of Pit Bulls were placed facing each other, on treadmills, running toward each other only to be held back by harnesses and the treadmills’ underfoot.
Subsequently receiving widespread criticism, the Guggenheim Musem released a statement, defending the exhibition:
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.
After viewing a preview of the exhibition, showing restrained Pit Bulls and reptiles fighting to survive, a petition addressed to the Guggenheim was launched, calling for the removal of these works, which has accrued over 150,000 signatures so far.
I spoke to Sophie Gamand, a New-York based artist/photographer who launched the campaign, #PitBullFlowerPower a little over three years ago, in order to erase the stigma of aggressiveness against Pit Bulls and other breeds that fall under the ‘breed-specific legislation’ laws. In wake of the Guggenheim exhibition, Sophie Gamand launched the #TortureIsNotArt campaign, which by now, has been shared and commented on thousands of times already.
Animal cruelty is a serious issue. I would expect a prestigious institution like the Guggenheim Museum to stand against cruelty. They had a choice in what to show for this exhibit, yet selected several pieces that display utter cruelty, including the now infamous dog video. Art has a long history of blurring the definitions of what is ethical and what’s legal, and it should. But the line should be very clear when it comes to the actual torture of living, breathing creatures to achieve an artist’s vision and the staging of acts of cruelty for entertainment. At least that’s the kind of society we should strive on becoming. That’s the reason I launched the #TortureIsNotArt campaign. There is a real debate to be had around this issue.
Animal lovers are not too happy with the Guggenheim’s decision to showcase such an exhibition, and their decision to defend it as well. Lives are put at stake for the entertainment of viewers, and the concepts and ideologies of the artists. In this day and age, it just seems unethical to put live animals in a position of cruelty and inconvenience.
If you are against this exhibition, you can sign the petition here.