The original petition calling for the removal of three works from <em srcset=Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World has accrued nearly 500,000 signatures. (screenshot by the author)” width=”720″ height=”483″ srcset=”×483.jpg 720w,×725.jpg 1080w,×242.jpg 360w, 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

The original petition calling for the removal of three works from Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World has accrued nearly 500,000 signatures. (screenshot by the author)

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is echoing the demands of a petition launched last week and addressed to the Guggenheim Museum, calling on the institution to exclude works that involve animals from its forthcoming exhibition,  Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.

Today, in a letter addressed to Richard Armstrong, the director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation (which runs New York’s Guggenheim Museum), PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk demanded that two of the three works mentioned in the petition (which has now gathered nearly a half-million signatures) be removed from the show, which is due to open October 6. PETA is calling for the exclusion of Peng Yu and Sun Yuan’sDogs Which Cannot Touch Each Other” (2003) and Huang Yong Ping’s “Theater of the World” (1993), but makes no mention of the Xu Bing work also criticized in the petition.

“In this exhibition, you invite visitors to examine a video of dogs trying to fight one another while chained to a nonmotorized treadmill as well as a piece in which live insects and reptiles will devour each other inside a cage,” the letter reads. “These animals experience every emotion that you, I, and our beloved dogs and cats do. They’re emotionally complex and highly intelligent living beings, not props. The animals in these exhibits are not willing participants, and no one should force sentient beings into stressful situations for ‘art’ or ‘sport.’”

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, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (© Huang Yong Ping)

Though Armstrong and the Guggenheim have yet to respond to PETA’s letter, the institution released a statement on Thursday defending Peng and Sun’s video (a recording of a 2003 performance involving four pairs of pit bulls running at each other on treadmills) and on Friday explained to Hyperallergic the logistics involved in the execution of “Theater of the World,” a sculptural enclosure that will hold many reptiles and insect for the duration of the three-month exhibition. (Though Hyperallergic obtained an image of “Theater of the World,” the Guggenheim would not provide us with a still from “Dogs Which Cannot Touch Each Other” and a video excerpt on the artists’ website seems to have been disabled.) PETA’s letter cites the College Art Association’s principles for artists incorporating animals into their work, asserting that both Huang’s installation and Peng and Sun’s violate them.

“We have no wish to stifle creativity or talent in art,” the letter concludes, “but we hope you’ll decide to leave real animals and any works that promote cruelty to animals out of your future exhibits.”

Read PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk’s full letter to Richard Armstrong here.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

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