When is Animal Cruelty Free Speech? Art, Violence, and Institutional Responses to Critique
(New School for Social Research)
Tania Islas (University of Chicago)
Paper short abstract:
How do art institutions engage with criticism of art that involves the use of animals? This paper shows how a number of institutions contest such critique, focusing on a recurrent defense of art as a unique realm of free speech that is beyond rational debate about its means of production.
Paper long abstract:
This paper analyzes how art institutions and artists engage with criticism of art that involves the use of animals. It shows how artistic institutions contest critique from publics and activist groups, focusing on a recurrent defense of art as a unique realm of free speech that is beyond rational debate about its means of production. Based on an analysis of a series of cancelled (or allegedly censored) exhibits - "Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World" at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City (2017), a retrospective of the Viennese actionist Herman Nitsch at the Jumex Museum in Mexico City (2015), and shows by the French-Algerian artist Adel Abdessemed at the San Francisco Art Institute (2008) and the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin (2009) - it works through the arguments and (counter-)critical strategies deployed by animal rights activists, publics, and different art communities. The paper argues that under the guise of protecting free speech, art institutions and artists reify the content of art and actively refuse to engage in debate about its means of production, thereby curtailing when, how, and if conversation about the latter can take place. In doing so, it draws attention to a number of slippages, including an anthropomorphic one whereby works containing animals are defended as a representation of human society even as the rights of animals used in these works are deemed less important than the rights of artists to use them as a means of representation.
Representing and Depicting Animals