On Monday night The Guggenheim announced it will be pulling three artworks from its upcoming exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World. The news was announced after the pieces came under fire last week when activists labeled them as “instances of unmistakable cruelty against animals in the the name of art.” This statement was delivered via a petition on change.org which currently has the support of nearly 750,000 people.
The artworks concerned, previewed on The New York Times, featured two videos of live animals and a sculpture that included live insects and lizards. In one of the videos, artists Peng Yu and Sun Yuan tether four pairs of American pit bulls to eight wooden treadmills for a live exhibit. The dogs are riled up and attempt to attack each other but are held back by harnesses causing them to grow increasingly weary. “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. “As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art.”
The title piece of the show Theatre of the World was a wooden enclosure housing thousands of insects and lizards that devour each other over the course of the exhibition, this piece was amongst the ones removed and the museum has removed a reference to animals each other from their website. This piece was also pulled from an exhibition in Vancouver in 2007 by the artist, Huang Yong Ping, after animal rights protesters called for its removal.
The last piece to be removed in Xu Bing’s A Case Study of Transference which was originally staged in Beijing in 1994. The piece featured two pigs having sex in front of a live audience, both animals were covered in what appeared to be temporary tattoos. The Guggenheim, although not including this live performance, was planning on exhibiting the piece as a video.
Art and China after 1889: Theatre of the World is largest of its kind to date and presents the work of more than 70 artists from the period of 1989 to 2008. It explores both China’s rise to becoming a global superpower and the explosion of its contemporary arts scene during this period, framed by geopolitical dynamics present at the end of the Cold War and the spread of globalisation.
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