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Guggenheim Museum Pulls Works Involving Live Animals from Chinese Art Survey

Huang Yong Ping, Theater of the World, 1993, wood and metal structure with warming lamps, electric cable, insects (spiders, scorpions, crickets, cockroaches, black beetles, stick insects, centipedes), lizards, toads, and snakes.
COURTESY THE ARTIST AND KAMEL MENNOUR

The Guggenheim Museum has decided to pull three works involving live animals from its upcoming survey “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” The three works, which enlist animals either in their production or in their exhibition, are Peng Yu and Sun Yuan’s Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other (2003), Xu Bing’s A Case Study in Transference (1994), and Huang Yong Ping’s Theater of the World (1993). The museum said in a statement issued tonight that the works were removed “for the safety of its staff, visitors, and participating artists.”

All three of the works have been the subject of statements and open letters from animal-rights groups as well as a Change.org petition calling for their removal that in recent days has been endorsed with more than 500,000 signatures. Peng and Sun’s video, which documented a 2003 performance featuring fearsome dogs running toward each other on treadmills, has proven the most controversial of the works. Huang’s piece—an expansive installation featuring amphibians, insects, and reptiles that prey on one another in an octagonal cage—had met with protest in years past, including in 2007 when the Vancouver Art Gallery removed all animals from the work after activists spoke out. (The institution left the cage structure on view for a time after.)

Curated by Alexandra Munroe with Hou Hanru and Philip Tinari, the forthcoming Guggenheim exhibition has been proffered as an ambitious survey of Chinese art since 1989. The show will take up the majority of the museum, and Huang’s work was intended to be displayed prominently in the museum’s High Gallery, at the top of its ramp.

The museum’s one-paragraph statement, issued on the Guggenheim’s website, is brief and tinged with an air of regret. “Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States,” it reads, “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.”

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