Sunday, April 15, 2007
Controversial Art: When Controversy becomes Cruelty- Artistic Expression is Chained
At what point does a work of art become more of an issue of cruelty than controversy? Installations that involve living beings are often created with the intention of causing a stir with observers. The artist desires to send a clear social message by exhibiting their work in an extreme manner. The question is- at what point do these works go from being examples of controversial art that 'opens our eyes' to works that are down-right cruel? And why is it that normally the artist is the only one pursued when such works have legal action taken against them? Should the freedom of artistic expression be upheld no matter how cruel a piece seems to be?
I bring these issues up because a controversial sculpture that pitted live caged animals against each other was closed today at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Canada. The artist, Huang Yong Ping, was accused of cruelty and may have charges brought against him. Huang Yong Ping is an internationally-known Chinese artist who now lives in Paris (He is no stranger to controversy- I've mentioned him in a past entry).
Huang stated that the animals will be removed in order to "maintain the integrity of the artwork". Do you think that this artist went too far with his creative exploration and dissection of social struggle? Does there come a point when art is no longer art and is instead a vehicle for cruel intentions? Or is this artist simply misunderstood? Does the intention of the artist out-weigh the manner in which he conveys his message? Should this artist be charged for the direction he has taken in the name of artistic expression?
In order to understand this case we must understand the intention of Huang Yong Ping. Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, stated that the installation "encouraged people to think seriously about the dynamics of power in today's society." Thus, the piece was intended to convey the struggle of everyday life in our complex society.
In a sense, it reflected on the dog-eat-dog mentality of corporations and the modern worker- of the lawful citizen and gangs- every social situation involving struggle was reflected in the piece. So do you consider this installation a masterful work of artistic expression? Or do you see it as exploitation with the intent of spurring exposure for the artist by crossing the line of morality and social restraint?
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) pressed for the exhibition to be closed. By provincial law, the artist can be investigated and may have charges of animal cruelty brought against him. However, isn't the gallery equally responsible for the work that was displayed? Since opening a week ago, the "Theatre of the World" sculpture housed scorpions, lizards, tarantulas and other animals together in a single cage. Should Kathleen Bartels, director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, be equally charged for allowing the exhibition to occur in the first place?
I ask these questions because it often seems that the creators of highly controversial work are targeted instead of the sponsors of the work that is exhibited. Is this fair? Should gallery directors follow a stricter criteria for the work that they exhibit? Or is this case an attack on artistic freedom? Perhaps both the artist and the gallery director are victims? What do you think?
Huang has stated that critics "completely ignored the concept and ideology behind this particular art work". He also stated that people against the work are only focusing on animals rights while completely denying the right of an artist to create work that is freely exhibited in an art museum.
Huang and his supporters strongly feel that the closing of the exhibition is an attack on free-thinkers and artistic expression. Their viewpoint is that the creatures involved in the piece have been freed from their cage- yet artistic expression is once again left in chains.
What do you think about this scenario? Is it acceptable that one form of virtue is upheld over another that is equally important in our society? Should lines be drawn in order to prevent future works that involve living beings? Does this mean that works that may depict cruelty against living beings (paintings, digital art, ...etc.) should also be kept out of exhibitions- even though they do not directly involve living beings?
I've given you the information- now you give me your insight.
Take care, Stay true,