AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Late last night, the Guggenheim Museum in New York announced it was pulling three works from an upcoming show of contemporary art from China. One is a large screen-covered box with live lizards and insects inside. The other two are videos of animals. The museum's decision came after pressure from animal rights activists. Rick Karr has more.
RICK KARR, BYLINE: Curators had selected around 150 pieces for the Guggenheim's upcoming show "Art And China After 1989: Theater Of The World." One of them was a video of a performance the artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu staged at a Beijing museum in 2003 titled "Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other."
(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)
KARR: Online footage of the performance shows pairs of dogs facing each other harnessed to stationary treadmills and encouraged to run at each other. Ben Williamson of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which demanded the piece be pulled from the show, says neither it nor the other two works deserve to be called art.
BEN WILLIAMSON: They are essentially acts of cruelty to animals masked as creativity. PETA objects to the use of all animals in art. This should by now be a no-brainer.
KARR: An online petition calling for the removal of the three works drew more than half a million signatures. The Guggenheim announced it was pulling the pieces from the show because it had received, quote, "explicit and repeated threats of violence." A Guggenheim spokesperson says the museum made the NYPD aware of the threats. But PETA's Ben Williamson is unsympathetic.
WILLIAMSON: If anyone has said something harsh or threatening to the museum, it's really an indictment of the museum that they didn't change due to rational discourse and peaceful public appeals in the first place.
KARR: But Suzanne Nossel of the human rights group PEN America says the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of the pieces should give animal rights activists and everyone else pause.
SUZANNE NOSSEL: Next time, people who object to art feel, OK, we're not going to be satisfied until this work gets pulled. And I think that is a worrisome development because you can imagine all kinds of controversy sparking that kind of intense protest.
KARR: The remaining pieces in "Art In China After 1989: Theater Of The World" will go on display next week. For NPR News, I'm Rick Karr in New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB SONG, "EL CUARTO DE TULA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.