Animal Abuse in Art (and Its Defenders) / by Chris Hall

Among many of the abuses of common sense and decency that Postmodern Conceptual Art has perpetrated, perhaps the most egregious is the tacit acceptance of animal abuse as art.  Although there is always a backlash from those outside of the art world, those inside the art world (its patrons, institutions, galleries, and museums) still offer support of those artists who have in the past or are currently directly engaged in the torture and killing of animals.  While many of these artists justify their art in terms of presenting a moral relativist argument, pointing out the hypocrisy of why we kill some animals and keep others as pets, or why we should find one act of violence shocking while we find other acts of perpetrated violence (war, poverty, crime, etc) acceptable, some of these artists don’t even attempt an explanation and are just deeply sick and cruel.  The following is a list of some of these artists who have crossed the line from art to animal abuse criminality.  

In 1977 American artist Tom Otterness rescued a dog from a shelter, only to document his shooting of it on a film entitled “Shot Dog Film.”  Unlike many other artists who traffic in animal abuse as art, Otterness has apologized, in 2008, when his pricey public sculpture commission was threatened.  

In 1988, Finnish artist Teemu Maki, recorded his killing of a cat that he rescued from a shelter which he entitled “Sex and Death.”  He killed the cat with small ax and then masturbated over it.  In 1990 Maki was fined the equivalent of $340 for fraud (he signed a document from the shelter promising to treat the cat well and not to harm it).  Maki has shown no remorse and has since become a success in the art world.  The Kiasma museum in Helsinki, in 2004, has even purchased the video for their collection.

teemu maki.jpeg

In 2000 Chilean artist Marco Evaristti had an installation titled “Helena and El Pescado” at Denmark’s Trapholt Modern Museum of Art.  “Helena and El Pescado” consisted of ten kitchen blenders filled with water and live goldfish.  Evaristti invited patrons to turn on the blender; one enthusiast did.  Evaristti recently had a retrospective of his work shown in Kolding, Denmark.

In 2001 Canadian artist Jesse Power, with the help of two other people, tortured and killed a cat.  They cut off an ear and removed an eye from the hanging cat, which was then skinned alive and disemboweled.  The whole thing was recorded as part of an art project.  In a video documenting the incident, 2004’s “Casuistry:  the Art of Killing a Cat,” two galley curators who had shown Power’s work previously, defended the artist, giving examples of other artists who used animal carcasses in avant-garde art.  At least in this case, the artist and collaborators spent some time in jail.  

In 2004, Dutch artist Katinka Simonse, aka Tinkerwell, snapped the neck of her pet cat Pinkeltjie in the name of art.  She skinned the cat and turned it into a purse and then justified her action by saying that the cat was depressed.  This work is not an aberration for Tinkerbell.  Her work frequently employs the torture of animals and then the mutilation of animal remains. 

In 2007 Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas Jimenez aka Habacuc captured a street dog, chained it up to a wall just out of reach of food, and (reportedly) starved it to death in a Nicaraguan art gallery.  In recognition for his contribution to art he was invited to participate, and recreate the incident at the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras in 2008.  Although the gallery director later said the whole thing was a hoax (the dog, he said, was feed and later escaped out the back door) not one of the gallery patrons expressed outrage, tried to help the dog, or notify the authorities about the perceived abuse. 

In 2012 Belgian artist Jan Fabre began throwing tranquillized cats up a set of stairs in order to hear them scream and smack into the ground.  This took place in Antwerp’s Town Hall for a documentary about himself. 

What is disturbing most to me is not that these monsters exist (there have always been monsters), but that these monsters are supported and subsidized by the established art elite, in the form of directors and curators in galleries and museums, and with government grants.  These artist monsters are only a small fraction of the Conceptual Art community, but the fact that they are accepted and defended in the "everything is permissible" world of art, where there is a conflation of art and real life (with real life consequences) is unacceptable to me.  I hope that the public backlash against animal abuse as art will eventually change the culture that defends the actions of these monsters.