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Guggenheim Pulls Animal Exhibits After 'Repeated Threats of Violence'

By Carly Miller | September 26, 2017 10:51am
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The "Theater of the World, 1993" installation featuring insects and reptiles has been pulled from the Guggenheim show.
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Guggenheim Abu Dhabi © Huang Yong Ping

MANHATTAN — The Guggenheim Museum is pulling three controversial exhibits from an upcoming show after a deluge of criticism from activists who said the art promoted animal cruelty.

The three installations, which all feature animals, are part of the 150-piece exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World” set to open on October 6.

The focus of the critics' ire, “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by husband-and-wife artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, shows video footage of a live performance where artists strapped pit bulls to treadmills, according to the New York Times.

Two other pieces, including the title piece that displays live insects and reptiles, are also set to be removed, according to a statement issued by the museum Monday night.

The decision comes days after hundreds of thousands of outraged petitioners demanded that the museum remove the three pieces they claimed “glorify animal cruelty.” On Thursday, the museum issued a statement defending the works as “intentionally challenging” and urged viewers to consider the artists’ intentions and the cultural context behind the show.  

But after receiving violent threats, the museum reversed its decision “out of concern for the safety of its staff, visitors, and participating artists,” according to Monday's statement. 

“The Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary,” said a museum spokesperson, adding that the pieces have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe and elsewhere in the United States.

"The Guggenheim has been the subject of and initiator of petitions in the past, but the tone in both the petition comments and the social media postings, was markedly different from what we've seen before and required us to take the threats very seriously," added the museum's public relations director, Sarah Eaton.

Stephanie Lewis, who created the online petition "Promote Cruelty-Free Exhibits at the Guggenheim," issued a response condemning the alleged threats made against the museum but lauding the decision to remove the exhibits.

“The only thing I will say is that I of course do not condone violence or threats of any kind,” she wrote, asking supporters to stay “as respectful and focused on the facts as possible.”

“Thank you for showing the world what a compassionate wildfire looks like."

The museum also received a letter from the president of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and faced protests over the weekend, Lewis added, noting that the organization is not affiliated with the petition. 

The petition had received more than 600,000 signatures as of early Tuesday — a number reached in just over 100 hours, according to Lewis.

Despite its decision to remove the three pieces, the museum expressed concern over the reaction from opponents.

“As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art,” the museum’s statement continued. “Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.”