Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World (exhibition)
Artist: Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, Huang Yong Ping, Xu Bing
Date of Action: August 2021
Region: North America
Location: New York City
Confronting Bodies: PETA, Animal Rights Activists, Guggenheim Museum, NY
Description of Artwork: In March 2017, the Guggenheim Museum, NY announced 'Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World,' a major exhibition of contemporary art from China spanning 1989 to 2008, on view from October 6, 2017 to January 7, 2018. According to the museum's press release, the exhibition is an interpretative survey of Chinese experimental art from "arguably the most transformative period of modern Chinese and recent world history" and the largest such survey of contemporary Chinese art ever to be organized in North America, with a concentration on the conceptualist art practices of two generations of artists. The exhibition examines how Chinese artists have been both critical observers and agents of China’s "emergence as a global presence and places their experiments firmly in a global art-historical context."
The Incident: An article published on September 20, 2017 in the New York Times, “Where the Wild Things Are: China’s Art Dreams at the Guggenheim,” meant to preview this highly anticipated, art-historically important survey, detonated a lightening-fast response on social media. The three controversial works were:
1) 'Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,' a video documenting a 2003 performance-installation by Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, which involved pit bulls chained to treadmills.
2) Video documentation of 'A Case Study of Transference' (1994) by Xu Bing, where two pigs copulated in front of a live audience.
3) 'Theater of the World' (1993) by Huang Yong Ping, consisting of a cage trapping dozens of live reptiles and insects in what would inevitably be Darwinian combat.
One day later, the Guggenheim received such a volume of complaints, it issued a public statement acknowledging concerns around 'Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other.' A Change.org petition was circulated, demanding the offending works be removed, and received over 800,000 signatures.
Results of Incident: On September 25, five days after the NYTimes article, the museum pulled three works from the show, citing “explicit and repeated threats of violence.” NCAC issued a statement criticizing the Museum for capitulating to threats of violence, followed by an Op-Ed.
Guggenheim Museum Statements:
Guggenheim Presents Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World Opening October 6, 2017. Largest Exhibition of Contemporary Art from China Spanning 1989 to 2008 Ever Mounted in North America, Guggenheim press release
Guggenheim Statement on the video work “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other”, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017
Video clip from “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” staged by the artist-team Sun Yuan and Peng Yu in 2003
Op-Eds / Editorials / Statements:
The Guggenheim Surrenders on Free Expression, By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, The New York Times, OCT. 13, 2017
Threats of Violence are Chilling our Public Sphere, BY SVETLANA MINTCHEVA, NCAC Op-Ed, OCTOBER 6, 2017
NCAC Statement, Sept 28, 2017
ART REVIEW: From Innovation to Provocation, China’s Artists on a Global Path 查看简体中文版 查看繁體中文版, By HOLLAND COTTER, OCT. 6, 2017
By bowing to the braying internet mob, the Guggenheim forgot its purpose, Rupert Myers, Oct 2, 2017
Artists Criticize Guggenheim Museum for Removing Works, September 27, 2017
Bad Art, Bad Ethics, Bad Explanation: On the Guggenheim’s Removal of Artworks From ‘Art and China after 1989’, BY Stephen F. Eisenman, September 27, 2017
Is PETA Today’s Most Feared Art Critic? How 4 Exhibitions Included Animal Art Without Getting Bitten, Brian Boucher, September 27, 2017
Guggenheim Museum Is Criticized for Pulling Animal Artworks 查看简体中文版 查看繁體中文版, By ROBIN POGREBIN and SOPAN DEB, SEPT. 26, 2017
PEN America statement, September 26, 2017
Guggenheim Pulls Three Works from Upcoming Show After Outcry Over Animal Abuse: The works by Peng Yu and Sun Yuan, Huang Yong Ping, and Xu Bing were the focus of a petition that garnered more than 600,000 signatures in the past week, Benjamin Sutton, Sept 26, 2017
The Guggenheim’s Alexandra Munroe on Why ‘The Theater of the World’ Was Intended to Be Brutal: The curator explains the origins of the exhibition and the thinking behind its most controversial elements, Andrew Goldstein, Sept 26, 2017
Guggenheim, Bowing to Animal-Rights Activists, Pulls Works From Show, By MATTHEW HAAG, SEPT. 25, 2017
Where the Wild Things Are: China’s Art Dreamers at the Guggenheim 查看简体中文版 查看繁體中文版, By JANE PERLEZ, SEPT. 20, 2017