Yesterday we were alerted to an art exhibit which is comprised of live horses tethered to a wall in a Manhattan gallery. Is it art or animal cruelty? Below, critics and activists weigh in on the 3-day installation—called Untitled (12 Horses)—currently on display at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in Greenwich Village.
Donny Moss (of Their Turn) told us the horses appear to be tethered there for 6 hours a day. Upon visiting last night before the exhibit closed for the day, Moss says Gavin Brown approached him, suspecting he was an animal rights activist (which Moss says the gallery has seen a lot of in the day since the 3-day show opened).
He suspected that I was an activist, and he wanted to engage with me. We had a long talk. He sees nothing wrong with tying horses to a wall for 6 hours, and he said they are better off in his air conditioned gallery than out in the hot sun. He was comfortable debating with me when I argued that live animals are not objects of art to put on display and that future generations will look at the photos of his live animal exhibit and ask, “What were they thinking?”
He was, however, stumped when I pointed out the horses can’t lie down, turn around or scratch an itch because of how tightly they’re tethered. He only response was that horses sleep standing up. I explained that they can catch a cat nap standing up but that they get their REM sleep when lying down.
Moss's point about not being able to lie down is perhaps the biggest one to make here—even the controversial stables of carriage horses in the city have stalls padded with hay for each horse. However, they are tended to.
Art critic Jerry Saltz praised the "iconic" exhibit, noting that "the horses are handsome, not the draught horses used in the original, which was staged in 1969 in an underground Italian garage with a hard tiled floor. Nor are they the broken animals we were used to seeing about Central Park. Poised, quiet, calm, they stand at three of the gallery's four walls, eating hay from buckets attached to the wall, neighing occasionally, rustling, relieving themselves. They are attended to at all times by three loving grooms. The room has a reverence, not for a work of art but for life, and the ways it can embed itself in things we call art."
The NY Times has declared Gavin Brown’s exhibit a "stupendous farewell gift" (it will be relocating to Harlem soon). They also provide some art world background on the piece, which is a recreation.
It [is] the first re-creation in the United States of Jannis Kounellis’s “Untitled (12 Horses)” a legendary work of living installation art first executed in Rome in 1969. Accompanied by works by Rirkrit Tiravanija and Elaine Sturtevant. If you are an art seeker of a certain age, you might have become fixated, as I was, by the photograph of the original Kounellis piece, which featured a dozen horses tethered to walls of a spacious Roman garage with a glistening tile floor. The work, which has been restaged five times in Europe, is a signal example of Arte Povera, the Italian wing of Post-Minimalism known for using common or humble materials. The picture made instantly clear that art could be absolutely anything, as long as a certain level of intensity differentiated it from real life.
The exhibit (at 620 Greenwich Street) will remain open through tomorrow, from noon to 6 p.m. Here's a bit of what you'll see: