As thousands of New Yorkers gathered at the Stonewall Inn on June 26th to celebrate the freedom to marry, 12 horses tethered to an art gallery wall just a few blocks away waited patiently for the freedom to move. It was an ironic and disheartening site to behold on an otherwise happy and historic day in Greenwich Village.
The New York Times described the live horse exhibit – “Untitled (12 Horses)” – as “stupendous,” but caring New Yorkers were not impressed. In fact, some showed up to protest.
The artist Jannis Kounellis, who says tying the horses to walls “makes a connection between the living element and the idea of solid foundations,” first created this exhibit in Rome in 1969. Oblivious to the outrage it would trigger in 2015, art dealer Gavin Brown brought Mr. Kounellis to his gallery in Greenwich Village to re-create it. For four days, the horses were tied to the wall for six to nine hours, rendering them unable to move around freely, lie down or scratch an itch.
In a heated discussion at the gallery, Mr. Brown told TheirTurn’s Donny Moss that the horses were being treated humanely, with access to food, water and air conditioning. But, even if true, that misses the point, which, advocates say, is that animals are not props or “objects,” as the artist himself described the horses.
It wasn’t only New Yorkers who registered their anger. People around the country flooded Mr. Brown with phone calls; expressed their anger on social media; and wrote scathing reviews online about the gallery. On Facebook, its rating dropped from 4.8 to 2.0 out 5. At least two media outlets wrote articles about the backlash. A story in the Gothamist, which had almost 200 comments, quoted TheirTurn’s Donny Moss: “Future generations will look at the photos of this animal exhibit and ask, ‘What were they thinking?'”
This is not the first time the Jannis Kounellis has used live animals. In his piece entitled “Fishbowl,” he placed a six inch chef’s knife into a bowl with live goldfish.
An art news publication reported that Mr. Brown intends to re-create the exhibit yet again in a new gallery space. The backlash to this exhibit, however, has reportedly led to a change in plans. Starting on Friday, callers to the gallery were told that Mr. Brown would not be exhibiting the horses again.
Call Gavin Brown’s gallery to convey your point of view about the use of live animals in an art exhibit and ask him to cancel plans to re-create the exhibit in his new gallery space: 212-627-5258
Post a review of the gallery.