The Guggenheim Museum backed down on plans to show several controversial works of art that sparked a wave of outrage from people who slammed them as animal cruelty.
The museum released a statement late Monday night saying it made the decision to remove three pieces from its “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” exhibit, due to concerns for “the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.”
One of the pieces is a video titled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” which shows frustrated pit bulls running on non-motorized treadmills facing each other. “Theater of the World,” another piece, includes live reptiles and insects preying on each other in an enclosed space.
Animal activists, including the ASPCA, PETA and actor Ricky Gervais, lashed out at the museum for supporting the works. In recent days, scores of people signed an online petition against the show, protested outside the museum and directly contacted museum staffers.
“If this is art, let’s tether” the artists as well, Gervais seethed in a profanity-laced tweet.
The Guggenheim had originally responded to the outrage on Thursday with a statement that the works are “intentionally challenging and provocative” and would remain in the show set to open in October.
But the museum relented on Monday while pointing out that the works had been exhibited in other museums in Asia, Europe and the United States.
“Explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary,” the museum said in a statement. “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.”
Stephanie Lewis, who started a Change.org petition against the exhibition that gained over 600,000 signatures, called it “victory for the animals” on the petition site. But she added the Guggenheim has not addressed all of their concerns.
“They have not presented any statement that appropriately explains why they are defending the use of innocent beings in cruel and unusual ways for art,” she said.