ASPCA Objects to Animal Cruelty in Guggenheim Museum Exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World”

September 25, 2017

NEW YORK— In response to the Guggenheim Museum Exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World, the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) today issued the following statement:

The ASPCA objects to the cruel manipulation of animals within the upcoming Guggenheim Museum exhibit “Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World.” This includes "Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other," a seven-minute video by artists Peng Yu and Sun Yuan of their 2003 live staging of eight American pit bulls facing each other while harnessed and tethered to treadmills. As the dogs struggle to run toward each other at high speeds, “the dogs get wearier and wearier, their muscles more and more prominent, and their mouths increasingly salivate,” according to The New York Times.

The ASPCA fully supports artistic expression, but strongly oppose any use of animals in art or entertainment if it results in pain or distress to the animals, which is clearly the case in this video. Such treadmills are typical of brutal dog fighting training regimens, and the mere positioning of animals to face each other and encourage aggression often meets the definition of illegal dog fighting in most states.

Practices directly associated with dog fighting should never be showcased unless with the explicit intention of eradicating the activity from our culture. Illegal in the U.S., dog fighting is a heinous act of animal cruelty, causing tremendous physical and psychological damage to animals forced to fight. This abomination not only persists, but occurs with alarming frequency. The ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Group has worked with law enforcement agencies to assist more than 1,000 victims of dog fighting in the last two years alone.

At a time when society’s animal welfare values are evolving and moving forward in many ways – in both communities and in our laws – engaging in animal cruelty and putting it on public display like this moves us backward, regardless of artistic intent.

The exhibit also perpetuates the false stereotype that pit bulls are only purposeful as vicious dog fighting instruments, not as what they are at their core: affectionate and loyal animals who crave our attention and deserve safe and loving homes. This increases the obstacles standing in the way of their adoption, and endangers their lives.

In a statement, the Guggenheim Museum urged viewers to “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.” But an interview with Peng Yu last year demonstrated both her ignorance and audacity when she said, “These dogs are naturally pugnacious… In fact, human nature and animal nature are the same. China hosted the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008. What is the goal of this type of sporting event? Actually, it is the conversion of actual fighting into regulated competition.”

Dog fighting is not a “sporting event” or a “regulated competition.” It is a display of wanton cruelty and sadism that is illegal throughout much of the world.

"Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other" is not the only work in the Guggenheim exhibit that manipulates animals in deplorable ways. One video of a previous live performance of two mating pigs whose bodies have been stamped with Roman and Greek letters. Another piece places hundreds of insects and reptiles – including gekkos, locusts, crickets, centipedes, and cockroaches – in a see-through dome under an overhead lamp. Most will be devoured or otherwise die. A local pet shop is replenishing the installation with new bugs as needed.

The Guggenheim Museum has rejected objectionable live animal content in the past, and should have rejected these reprehensible and truly harmful representations as well. It is not a question of what qualifies as “art.” It’s an understanding that animal cruelty is as unacceptable in art as it is in life.

The ASPCA urges the public to sign the petition asking the Guggenheim Museum to shut down its exhibit: