Guggenheim Pulls Artworks from China Exhibition Amid Threats

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other.
Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other.
(Galleria Continua, San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Habana.)

Threats of violence have forced the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York to withdraw three controversial works featuring animals from an upcoming exhibition.

"Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World," a survey of Chinese contemporary art made between the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, will open October 6. Prior to its openings, protests and threats of violence, along with a Change.org petition, have prompted the museum to exclude works that some have called out for animal cruelty.

The first work to raise ire was Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, a seven-minute performance video made by the artists Sun and Peng in Beijing. The piece shows eight pit bulls facing eachother on eight treadmills, appearing exhausted and stressed as they unsuccessfully attempt to fight.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Kennel Club, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have all issued statements condemning the three artworks.

The Guggenheim stated:

Out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors, and participating artists, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has decided against showing the art works Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003), Theater of the World (1993), and A Case Study of Transference(1994) in its upcoming exhibition Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World. 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. 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.

The New York Times spoke with some of the artists represented in the exhibition, and Sun and Peng's piece with the pit bulls is described as "one of their less radical pieces."

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