Best Friends Blog

“Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other”

Dogs like Panini and Rover crave social interaction
This blog was to have been a call to action to add your voice to the torrent of objections to the Guggenheim Museum’s astonishing and disgusting plan to show “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other,” a work by husband and wife Chinese conceptual artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu of four pairs of pit-bull-type dogs facing each other while restrained on treadmills.

Thanks to the outrage voiced by so many in response to a celebratory New York Times article on the upcoming exhibition called “Art and China After 1989,” the Guggenheim has pulled this and two other exhibits that featured animals forced into stressful situations.

It’s a measure of the Guggenheim’s disconnect with reality that their stated reason for removing these pieces from the “Art and China After 1989” exhibition was concern about the safety of their “staff, visitors, and participating artists,” with no mention of the inherent cruelty involved in the making or display of the works.

In China, live dogs were used for this abusive display while the Guggenheim had planned to show a seven-minute video of the Chinese display as part of the three-month exhibition. Another work featured lizards and insects displayed in a box under lights and a third showed photos from a 1993 Chinese performance piece that involved a tattooed pig.

This naturally unleashed a torrent of criticism from the general public and animal advocates, while the artists’ lame attempt to allay concerns only served to illustrate how out of touch they are. Ms. Peng said, “Were the dogs being abused? The answer should be no. These dogs are naturally pugnacious.” This is a bald statement of ignorance and self-justification that did nothing to turn the tide of public opinion, which eventually convinced the Guggenheim to pull the plug.

It’s hard to know where to start here, as there are so many things wrong with this.

I understand that art is often intended to be unsettling and controversial, and that great art has illustrated and illuminated dire social problems and war through graphic depiction, but what sets this apart is that the dogs in this display are not volunteers. This is not informed-consent performance art. This is animal abuse, plain and simple. The dogs are being intentionally forced into the stress of what to them is a life-and-death situation.

Would the Guggenheim show video of people being forced to shoot each other as long as the subjects didn’t know they were firing blanks? Would the fear, anxiety and resultant aggression be considered art worthy of display? Would it be art to take someone’s pet dog and terrify him while people watch or would that be animal cruelty? How is this different?

As to the artist’s ignorance, we know from decades of experience that no breed or type of dog is naturally pugnacious. There is as much variation in temperament within a breed as there is between breeds. Fighting dogs are trained and encouraged to be aggressive.

Added to these and innumerable reasonable objections to the Guggenheim’s plan is the fact that China is the home of endless institutionalized forms of indifference to the welfare of animals — including dog meat festivals, trade in rhino horns and elephant tusks, a range of discredited Chinese medicines that drive the poaching of threatened and endangered species around the world, and, yes, a display of lizards and insects under lights.

Please send your thoughts on this travesty to the out-of-touch Guggenheim curator, Alexandra Munroe, who thinks this exhibit is a good idea. The Guggenheim’s contact information can be found here.

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Francis Battista
Best Friends Animal Society

  • Hannahoneybee

    Why would you push censorship? It’s like you want to pretend people never fought dogs. People still fight dogs. Raising awareness as to the horror of it would be helpful in putting an end to it. Isn’t that what you want?

  • Ouch, can’t stand free expression much? I’m very disappointed in all the bloggers herein objecting to the artwork of “dogs that cannot reach each other.” The piece is and was “intentionally challenging and provocative artwork” and made to make people THINK. That can’t happen if it doesn’t get to be seen, but because of all the reactionaries who can’t think through complex ideas they’ve made a circus out of what was once art, so it’s going to get as much if not more viewings than originally intended, but now it will be without the Guggenheim’s tutelage and educational aspect being presented, so it’s loose-loose. Oh well.

    Don’t any of you realize you get one or two pieces of mail every week from Best friends. Where do think all this fund-easing material comes from? It comes from huge vats of petroleum-based poison that Best Friends development department uses like it was water flowing out of a stream—it’s horrible for the environment and it’s wasteful. Do what I did: call them and ask that they not send truckloads of mailings out.

    —A very wealthy and very disappointed Best Friends donor and advocate.

  • Janine Wolfe

    Eloquently and accurately said. Thank you as always to Best Friends for the amazing work you do on behalf of animals. You’re an inspiration. I would also, however, like to call out the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Henry Luce Foundation and other foundations and individuals for providing substantial funding for this cruelty. I believe they bear as much responsibility as the Guggenheim.

  • Terri Strang

    Don’t mess with animal lovers!!! Hope Guggenheim learned their lesson!!

  • Bonnie Palughi

    Thanks for this eye opening story and once again I find it disappointing and very cruel. I love dogs!! I can’t imagine how they must be treated in other countries. This is not amusement, unless you are sick! STOP THE TORTURING NOW!!

  • Rosemary Hegarty

    email or call 212-360-4336 VM was full when I tried

  • Shelli Bzdewka

    For such a prestigious institution like the Guggenheim to put this on display is pathetic and shameful. What could they have been thinking? I don’t want to say this, but perhaps if those at Guggenheim that were involved in approving this were themselves part of this display instead, I think the decision would have been very different. Thankfully they have come to their senses.


    Being it was Chinese art I’m surprised we didn’t see portraits from the Yulin dog meat festival on display…… Disgusting!!

  • Becky Adams Shreve

    Just wondering to whom should we address our concerns at the Guggenheim? i went to the link that is provided, but there are many different departments, addresses, etc and not sure who we should be contacting. Thank you.

    • Mongoose218

      Yes, myself as well..

  • linda da lawyer

    There are other email addresses. I emailed the box office: ANIMAL ABUSE IS NOT ART, NOT NOW, NOT EVER. I guess if we blanket them with emails maybe they will start to get a clue, although I am not holding out a lot of hope.

  • Clelia Brigneti

    Thank you for always keeping this on the front end, only but talking about it can we start changing.

  • beautycoach

    Love you Best Friends!

  • lizfarkas

    The email address for the curator Alexandra Munroe has been disabled.

    • Mongoose218

      NOT surprised!