When the Guggenheim museum announced its intentions to host exhibitions that would feature harsh animal treatments and callous torture that could cause death and extreme fatigue, it caused public panic. The pieces all include animals, they were “dogs that cannot touch each other”, a video that shows eight pit bulls on different treadmills trying to touch each other, “A case of transferrence” and “theatre of the world”.
They were met with harsh public censure from hundreds – if not thousands – of professional artists. Museum goers and animal rights activists kick started a campaign to hamper the exhibition with more than 500,000 signatures on the petition.
And it worked.
The museum pulled the three works from the “Art and China After 1989: Theatre of the world” show, a conceptual chinese art exhibit that was intended to kick-off in October and span for three months, citing that it was concerned about the safety of its staff, the artists and the Show’s participants.
But it landed in fresh public trouble.
The Guggenheim is now facing a new barrage of criticisms after pulling the artworks and this time, for different reasons.
The artist, Ai Weiwei called the move “A tragedy for modern society” because the institution couldn’t exercise its right for freedom of speech, in a telephone call to the New York Times.
PEN America has stated that the move has set a “worrying precedent” that debatable works can be silenced by mass public outcry.
Taking another angle, a professor of art history at Northwestern University, Stephen F. Eisenman, said that the museum’s decision was the right one for the “wrong reason” in an ARTnews article.
Museums and the public have been at each other in the past over ethical issues when it came to controversial exhibitions, with some works pulling through when museums stood their ground and others caving to the pressure. While giving the public another boost of confidence that they can derail plans of art galleries to exhibit works that are immoral in their opinion, it is a blow to the guts of artists and museums with intentions of presenting future provocative works.