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Petition Demands Guggenheim Change Exhibit That 'Glorifies Animal Abuse'

By Carly Miller | September 22, 2017 6:47pm | Updated on September 25, 2017 7:18am
 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, 150 x 270 x 160 cm
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, 150 x 270 x 160 cm
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Guggenheim Abu Dhabi © Huang Yong Ping

UPPER EAST SIDE — Tens of thousands of petitioners are demanding that the Guggenheim Museum remove pieces from a yet-to-open exhibit due to video footage they say "glorifies animal abuse."

“Art and China After 1989,” a highly-anticipated three-month exhibit set to open on Oct. 6, includes 150 pieces by experimental artists between 1989 and 2008, according to the New York Times.

But after a preview of the controversial exhibit, animal rights activists are foaming at the mouth over a filmed, live performance showing aggressive, restrained pit bulls and a cage filled with live reptiles and insects battling to survive.

More than 55,000 animal rights activists and sympathizers had signed an online petition as of Friday evening, demanding that the museum shut down the exhibit, calling it “appalling and disgusting.”

The most upsetting piece, according to the petition writer, is “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by husband-and-wife artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The seven-minute video shows American pit bulls strapped to non-motorized treadmills, gnashing their teeth and exhausting themselves under the restraints, according to the Times. The footage is from a live performance at the Beijing museum in 2003.  

Another video that has angered petitioners features two pigs having sex in front of a live museum audience at a Bejing museum, their skin stamped head-to-toe with letters. The title work, “Theater of the World,” will house live insects and reptiles fighting for survival in an enclosure display.

“This assault on animals in the name of art will not be tolerated or supported,” the petition states.

The museum, responding to the initial outcry on social media over "Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other," defended the work and the entire exhibit, calling it an “intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control,” according to a statement released by the museum Thursday. 

“We recognize that the work may be upsetting,” the statement continues. “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.”

The museum was not immediately available for comment Friday regarding the petition. 

Once the petition reached its goal of 50,000 signatures, it would be sent to museum senior curator, Alexandra Monroe, it stated.

“Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” will be at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, Oct. 6, 2017, through Jan. 7, 2018.

Correction: The original version of this story stated that the “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” video shows pit bulls strapped to motorized treadmills. They are actually strapped to non-motorized treadmills.