A Letter to the Guggenheim

Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Museum

Re: Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World

Dear Mr. Armstrong,

I am a long time visitor to the Guggenheim. My first introduction was the Joseph Beuys retrospective in 1979. From that encounter I’ve been hooked on everything that the Guggenheim does. Beuys’ Five Tons of Fat stood in direct contrast to the recent changing hues from James Turrell. Only that eternal space that is the rotunda could pull off both. The excitement never stops at the Guggenheim.

It frustrates me to have to write this letter to you. I am requesting removal of the live animal and filmed live animal pieces from the above referenced upcoming exhibition.

I can only wonder how Peggy Guggenheim would react to the exhibition title’s source – a live animal cruelty act.

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The museum is engaging in animal fighting directly with the title  piece and at arm’s length with the filmed live piece that features eight American Staffordshire terriers.

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You may be interested to know that under New York State Agriculture and Markets Law §351, a person who engages in any of the following conduct is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to four years, or by a fine of up to $25,000, or both: (a) causes any animal to engage in animal fighting for amusement or gain; (b) trains any animal under circumstances evincing intent that such animal engage in animal fighting for amusement or gain; (c) breeds, sells or offers for sale any animal under circumstances evincing intent that such animal engage in animal fighting; (d) permits any of the three previous activities to occur on premises under his control; or (e) owns, possesses or keeps any animal trained for fighting on premises where an exhibition of animal fighting is being conducted under circumstances evincing intent that such animal engage in animal fighting.

In other words, the spirit of Peng Yu and Sun Yuan’s piece goes directly against the intent of this statute.

Also, the filmed piece of the two pigs engaging in sexual intercourse is merely animal exploitation with depravity. Were you aware that the deliberate tattooing or stamping of imagery on the skin of an animal is also a crime under §351? For Mr. Xu to state that “animals are completely uncivilized and Chinese characters are the expression of supreme civilization” demonstrates a complete lack of awareness as to the intelligence and emotional life of pigs.

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Who really is uncivilized here? As far as the museum is concerned, why is the filmed sex act permissible while the live sex act is impermissible? Does the latter go too far while the former is a seen through a lens approach that is deemed curatorially and palatably appropriate?

The Humane Society of the United States is working to stop animal fighting nationwide for good with their End Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign. The Animal Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association has taken positions on the types of animal combat that the museum is promoting.

None of the animals used or depicted by these artists gave consent. Surely if these are artists worthy of promotion by the Guggenheim Museum can they not be persuaded to create art that states their message without exploitation and cruelty?

My feeling is that this moment in the Guggenheim’s history will be tied to the moment when the New York Zoological Society exhibited a pygmy at the Bronx Zoo.

My hope is that Alexandra Munroe, Philip Tinari, Hou Hanru, Xiaorui Zhu-Nowell and Kyung An reconsider these particular curatorial choices in favor of pieces that convey artistic intent without depravity.

Sincerely yours,