Guggenheim Acquiring Controversial Xu Bing Work Pulled from Recent ‘China’ Show

A photo of one version of A Case Study of Xu Bing’s A Case Study of Transference, 1993.


The Guggenheim Museum in New York is in the process of acquiring one of the pieces it removed from its recent survey of Chinese contemporary art, just before the show’s opening, after criticism erupted over the treatment of animals that were involved in the making of the works.

Today ARTnews learned that the museum is adding to its collection Xu Bing’s A Case Study of Transference (1994), a video of a performance piece that shows two pigs—one stamped with false Chinese characters, the other stamped with false English words—mating.

After the museum said that it received threats of violence over its plan to display the works last September, it removed Xu’s piece, along with two others, prior to the opening of the exhibition, “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,” which ran from October 6, 2017, through January 7, 2018. A museum spokesperson who confirmed the acquisition process said that the work is coming to the museum as a purchase with funds given in honor of the exhibition.

The work that was perhaps the most controversial in the show, Huang Yong Ping’s Theater of the World (1993), which features live insects, lizards, snakes, and other creatures in a cage consuming one another, is already owned by the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. At the Guggenheim in New York, only the cage was shown, with a curatorial note explaining the decision not to display the piece completely. The third contested work was Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, 2003, a video that shows two dogs, harnessed to treadmills, facing each other.

The Guggenheim spokesperson said that the museum is also considering the use of funds given in honor of the exhibition to purchase a new Huang, titled Vomit Bag (2017), an Air France air sickness bag on which the artist reportedly wrote after learning that his Theater piece would be displayed only partially. On that object, he wrote, in part, “An empty cage is not, by itself, reality. Reality is chaos inside calmness, violence under peace, and vice versa.”

Update, 9:45 p.m.: This post has been corrected to state that the Xu Bing work is coming to the museum as a gift from a donor. It is not a gift from the artist, as previously stated.

Update, March 12: This post has been corrected to state that the pigs in Xu Bing’s piece were stamped, not tattooed. In addition, it now notes that both works are being considering for acquisition using funds given in honor of the “Art and China” exhibition.

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