arts 09.27.17

The Guggenheim Defines Art Down

If Orson Welles had made a snuff film, it would still be a snuff film. Even if it were, somehow, artfully edited, would you be inclined to even consider it as art, or even entertainment? We wouldn't. Human suffering is at the core of much great art, but it is in the artist's understanding, empathy, and insight into suffering that, in our view, makes art art.

Sometimes it is necessary for us to look straight at misery. We need to see, for instance, what people are going through in Puerto Rico to understand the scope of the disaster and determine what needs to be done. It may be painful to watch, but it is a practical matter. And no one is forced to talk to journalists. Whatever it is, and at times it may be exploitive, pointing a camera at victims of, say, a disaster, is not art.

In our Fall Preview earlier this month, we wrote that we were looking forward to the Art and China after 1989 exhibit at the Guggenheim. What we did not know was that it would include a video called Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, in which 8 pit bulls are chained to treadmills, confronting each other in pairs, putting the dogs in extreme stress. It is cruel and it is wrong. We're almost always on the side of the freedom of artistic expression but until the dogs give their explicit permission to be used in this way, it is bullshit to describe this experiment as anything but torture.

On Monday, The Guggenheim issued a statement that, in our view, demonstrates their lack of understanding. They're pulling parts of the exhibit, doing the right thing but for all the wrong reasons.

This was their statement:
Out of concern for the safety of our staff, visitors, and participating artists, we have decided against showing the art works "Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other" (2003), "Theater of the World" (1993), and "A Case Study of Transference" (1994) in the upcoming exhibition "Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World." Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, we regret that threats of violence have made our decision necessary. As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art. Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.

So that's where we part company with the Guggenheim. Something that contains intentional cruelty to a living animal in furtherance of an artist's vision is definitionally not a work of art. You want to show Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other? Paint it.

Bleecker Street

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