Letter: Museum explains exhibit, relocation of tortoises
The members of the Aspen Art Museum board of trustees are aware of and extremely sensitive to the perspectives raised by some about the inclusion of three African desert tortoises (commonly known as “sulcatas”) in the presentation of Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibition “Moving Ghost Town.” In an effort to respond, and put to rest any misinformation regarding this exhibition, we feel it is important to articulate the following.
We want to again make it very clear that we would never harm or abuse animals or place any living thing in danger or harm’s way. From the initial proposal and agreement to present Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Moving Ghost Town,” we have constantly consulted with highly respected authorities on tortoises and turtles regarding their care and needs, and retained a prominent local veterinarian, Dr. Elizabeth Kremzier, to regularly examine and monitor the tortoises to assure their well-being. We have continued to adhere diligently to all tortoise health guidelines as recommended by these expert authorities.
Kremzier: “I have worked with the staff from the Aspen Art Museum since the initial planning phase of the Cai Guo-Qiang project. Without question, the welfare of the tortoises has been the highest priority throughout every stage of this exhibition.”
It also has been the Aspen Art Museum’s ongoing position that if at any time during the course of “Moving Ghost Town” it was ever deemed that the environmental circumstances, which made its presentation possible, became untenable or the well-being of the tortoises could not be absolutely assured, they would be removed immediately from the exhibition. In consultation with Kremzier, and based on her expert opinion in light of the current unseasonably cold and wet weather conditions forecasted for Aspen, she has recommended that the tortoises be relocated as of Monday. To that end, the exhibition’s three tortoises — Big Bertha, Gracie Pink Star and Whale Wanderer — will all be transitioned to a new home that was selected in consultation with and pre-approved by the Turtle Conservancy.
The Aspen Art Museum firmly believes in our institutional role of providing a wide platform for artists to realize their creative vision. “Moving Ghost Town” is no exception. We stand by the artist to ensure that vision is honored, and we are glad that this exhibition has generated such meaningful dialogue and educational awareness. We respectfully acknowledge the perspectives of those who believe that live animals should simply never be used in artworks, despite the long history of artist projects that have included them — from Robert Rauschenberg and Lucinda Childs’ “Spring Training” (1965), a performance involving 30 desert turtles with flashlights taped to their backs, to Joseph Beuys’ “I Like America and America Likes Me” (1974), in which the artist caged himself with a live coyote, and Darren Bader’s presentation of live cats as sculptures in his recent “Darren Bader: Images at MoMA PS1” (2012), to name but a few.
The Aspen Art Museum values its role in providing a simultaneous platform for freedom of artistic expression as well as for the expressions of different beliefs and points of view in relation to these ideas. We are pleased that “Moving Ghost Town” has enabled a discussion that broadens important dialogue and critical thinking and affirms the museum’s role as a catalyst for creative engagement well beyond its walls — allowing us all to ask meaningful questions in our ever-expanding search for our place in a complex and ever-changing world.
More facts and details about “Moving Ghost Town” may be found at http://www.aspenartmuseum.org/exhibitions/20-moving-ghost-town.
Aspen Art Museum board of trustees