Minding Animals Curatorial Guidelines: Animals and Art Exhibitions
The growth of Animal Studies as a field has been mirrored by the increasing number of animal themed artworks and exhibitions. However, many artists and curators do not properly consider the impact of the artworks and exhibitions on perceptions of nonhuman animals, and on the individual animals themselves. The result has been numerous examples where the animal has been treated disrespectfully, marginalised, exploited, and caused physical and/or behavioural suffering. Animals have been killed as part of or for an artwork. These guidelines are designed to avoid such inappropriate and unacceptable uses of animals as subjects for artworks.
Essentially, the use of nonhuman animals as subject matter for artworks should conform to the same kind of considerations given to artworks that deal with human animals. For example, artworks in an exhibition concerned with gender or race would not be deemed acceptable or appropriate if these works could be seen to cause suffering to the subjects or reinforce, perpetuate, or encourage the very mechanisms and attitudes that have resulted in the oppression and marginalisation of these groups.
Read the complete Guidelines:
These guidelines are reasonable for a Vegan conference about animal liberation. However, many artists defend the use animal bodies and body parts as part of their 'culture'. If museums had these guidelines, 90% of the art objects would be gone, as most art materials are not vegan. Canvases are sized with rabbit skin glue, paint brushes are made from animal hair, prints and paper can be made with felt [wool fiber], and pigments have animal bone matter within them; photographs, if not digital, have gelatin.
Even for a contemporary artist, it's difficult to source 100% vegan art supplies. But things are changing, as more and more young artists are vegan and demand vegan art supplies.
That said, we can do much better.
The use of any living animal as an art object must be thoroughly and soundly rejected - an animal cannot give consent. The murder of any animal to create an art object must be rejected.
I would then add, to be consistent, museums are some of the worst offenders in the 'food' that is served up in their cafes and restaurants. For being supposedly liberal and sensitive in terms of reflecting contemporary concerns in culture, their menus are composed primarily of body parts.
The Louvre, for example, has not one vegan option. Not the salads or the French fries are vegan. MoMA [The Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan] serves foie gras. They excuse this, by saying they license the restaurant, not the menu. The stench of burning flesh accompanies any tour of the galleries.
The 'culture' is literally the lure for the multimillion dollar gift stores and restaurants. Gift stores also trade in animal skin purses, silk scarves, wool garments, etc.
Museums can become a safe space to celebrate all cultures, including nonhuman cultures. As we are concerned with animal exploitation within that space, it should be extended to the most profitable areas of museums [the restaurants and gift stores].
When I have openings in museums, or university galleries, I have a contract with any museum, or university to serve only vegan food at openings. This works, museums are happy to be challenged, the chefs love to experiment, and the curators can curate local vegan restaurants they didn't know existed. People attending the shows are very interested to try vegan food.
It's an all-around positive, to encourage museums to go vegan in the art and the food. But this doesn't shift the reality that museums license their valuable midtown real estate space to food providers that profit from animal exploitation. Which is why museums do not reflect the growing consumer awareness of vegan food.
Rather than business as a usual, museums can be encouraged to give some thought to this, for future licensing. Hope these thoughts are useful; thank you all for your comments on this issue.
For more information, see:
- Letter to Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas:
Proposal Regarding Living Animals in Art Projects, February 14, 2015.
- Chicken Slaughter “Art” Exhibit Blocked by United Poultry Concerns and Animal Outreach of Kansas; Public Outrage and Anticruelty Law Killed It.
Artist Beth Redwood created this beautiful image for The Story of Chickens exhibit at the Percolator Art Gallery in Lawrence, Kansas in April 2012. It includes photos of our sanctuary residents. Read “The Story of Chickens.”
UPC sells Beth Redwood’s The Mother of Compassion Blesses Our Fellow Beings prints and a limited selection of Sue Coe’s prints.