The GUGGENHEIM vs self censorship

Photograph by Huang Yong Ping / Guggenheim Abu Dhabi via The New Yorker

Photograph by Huang Yong Ping / Guggenheim Abu Dhabi via The New Yorker

The editorial board of the New York Times issued a strongly-worded condemnation today of the Guggenheim Museum's management for pulling three controversial works from its current exhibition "Art and China After 1989." The exhibition is the first comprehensive museum exhibition of politically-charged, post-Tiananmen art from China to be mounted in the US in nearly a decade.

The censored works include two videos featuring animals ("Dogs that Cannot Touch Each Other" by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu and "A Case Study in Transference" by Xu Bing) and a sculpture intended to house insect and reptiles ("Theater of the World" by Huang Yon Ping). "Theater of the World" was to be one of the centerpieces of the exhibition.

Backlash to the show began after previews were published describing the works. An online petition demanding removal of the works rapidly gained over 750,000 signatures.

While expressing reservations about the works in question, the NYT editorial board was harsher in condemning the willingness of the museum to withdraw work that was anticipated to be thorny, difficult fare for museum visitors.

Noting the irony of a US-based exhibition censoring work by Chinese artists, the writers concluded that, "We are left...to contemplate an exhibition of irony: Chinese artists find their provocative statements against oppression suppressed in the land of the free."