Tortoise controversy at the Aspen Art Museum



A petition is circulating Facebook calling for the removal of an exhibit at the Aspen Art Museum, which involves three tortoises with two iPads each attached to their shells.

Moving Ghost Town, is a piece slated to open Aug. 9 from renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Three African Sulcata tortoises were set loose in three Colorado ghost towns, recording their journeys. They were then retrieved and put in an enclosure with their film playing in a loop in the iPads.

According to the museum webpage on the show, the tortoises were rescues from an overcrowded breeder, and are watched over by a veterinarian who worked with Cai. The 1.5-pound iPads are not a burden for the animals, they insist; and the silicone attachments, made of the same stuff researchers use to mark wild tortoises for study, will not harm their shells.

But Aspenite Lisabeth Odén felt this a cruel practice and posted a petition, which as of 11 a.m. this morning had 2,437 signatures, including a statement from PETA. The museum's Facebook page has a lengthy post from yesterday defending the installation, which has drawn largely negative comments.

The Aug. 9 opening is part of a larger celebration for the museum's new $45 million building. The 24-hour event will feature film screenings, concerts and sunrise yoga. Other exhibits include a dual show from late greats David Hammonds and Yves Klein, as well as contemporary artists Rosemarie Trockel and Jim Hodges.

But all of that has been overshadowed by a public uproar gaining news coverage from the Denver Post all the way to TIME and beyond. Things could get worse for AAM if protestors decide to picket during the opening in person. Either way, it's a milestone marred by a lot of bad press.

Animals often appear in Cai's art. For instance, he worked with (fake) animals back in 2008 for his monumental I Want to Believe show at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The show — which I was able to see for myself — included scores of wolves running along the circular corridor before tumbling into a glass wall, and most arresting, suspended tigers covered in arrows.

The petition needs about 560 more supporters before it will be formally submitted. It's not known how the museum will respond once that happens. The show will close Oct. 5.

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