New York businessman calls for Aspen Art Museum boycott

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times
New York businessman and Turtle Conservancy board member Andy Sabin said Cai Guo-Qiang’s art installation sends a bad message about animals.
Lynn Goldsmith/Special to The Aspen Times |

A New York businessman and Turtle Conservancy board member is asking the public to stop supporting and attending the Aspen Art Museum until iPads mounted to its desert tortoises are removed.

Andy Sabin, who is acting independent from the conservancy, said Cai Guo-Qiang’s art installation “Moving Ghost Town” — which features three African sulcata tortoises that display footage of area ghost towns on their iPads — is exploitation.

Though museum representatives declined to comment, the organization, in previous statements defending Guo-Qiang’s installation, has cited free expression, contending that “it is not the museum’s practice to censor artists.”

An East Hampton resident, Sabin owns Sabin Metal Corp., which is the largest private refinery of silver, gold and platinum in the world, according to Hamptons magazine. While tax records show Sabin donated $66,000 to the conservancy in 2011, he said he most recently provided $250,000 to the conservancy for care of tortoises in Madagascar.

“It sends a bad message about animals,” Sabin said of the installation. “They aren’t made to be art objects and carry banners.”

Sabin said he intends to run ads in The Aspen Times calling for the boycott.

“I’m going to be putting four full-page ads in,” Sabin said. “They’re going to ask the public not to go to the museum or give them any financial support” until the iPads are removed, he said.

In addition to comments on the iPads, Sabin voiced concern that Aspen’s lower temperatures will impact the animals, who are scheduled to remain here until Oct. 5.

At night, when the museum is closed, the tortoises are housed in a wooden, insulated enclosure with a radiant-heat panel. The iPads are affixed to their shells using noninvasive silicone epoxy material without any drilling involved.

Museum spokeswoman Sara Fitzmaurice said Friday that the organization has been consulting the conservancy as well as local veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth Kremzier. If the conservancy or Kremzier determines that it’s in the tortoises’ best interests to conclude the exhibition early, the museum will do so, she said.

Sabin said he would be happy to take the tortoises and deliver them to a new home.

On Friday, Turtle Conservancy board member Eric Goode, who has consulted the museum over a number of months, also aired concerns about cold-blooded animals living at high elevation.

It is not uncommon for the conservancy to offer advice to people or organizations. Zoos, for example, frequently call in, but the conservancy doesn’t get involved beyond that.

“The Turtle Conservancy cares about the husbandry of the turtles — the food, the temperature,” Sabin said. “They have no interest in talking about iPads. Why would they?”

Public backlash against the installation began with an online petition started by Aspen resident Lisbeth Oden, which caught the attention of national media outlets. By Wednesday, nearly 6,000 people had signed the petition.


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