The Aspen Art Museum has responded to criticism of its plans to include live tortoises carrying iPads in one of its inaugural exhibitions, “Cai Guo-Qiang: Moving Ghost Town,” during the opening party for its new building. In part, its defense rests on an endorsement from Eric Goode of New York’s Turtle Conservancy, who draws a connection between Cai’s art project and the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Yes. Really.
Goode comes out in support of the museum’s decision to show the piece on the grounds that, like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, it will impress upon the public the weighty responsibilities of turtle and tortoise ownership:
We at the Turtle Conservancy believe that Cai Guo-Qiang’s installation raises public awareness of the fact that African Spurred Tortoises (Centrochelys sulcata) are completely inappropriate as pets for most people. Although they are very attractive when small, they grow to a very large size (over two feet long and more than 125 pounds) requiring very large and expensive enclosures. They also live a very long time, at least as long as a human. Once these tortoises are a few years old, they can no longer be cared for by most of those who buy them and become disposable pets. This message is timely as it coincides with the release of the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie which is sure to increase demand for pet tortoises. We hope that Cai’s exhibition will convince people that, in general, turtles and tortoises are very challenging pets that bring great responsibility as they can often outlive their owners.
In a statement sent to artnet News via email, museum spokesperson Sara Fitzmaurice defended the Cai’s use of tortoises in the piece, and promised that the animals are being well treated:
The Aspen Art Museum is a contemporary art museum that provides a platform for artists to present their artistic vision with a freedom of expression. That free expression can take many forms, and it is not the Museum’s practice to censor artists. Cai Guo-Qiang’s installation features three African Sulcata Tortoises which were rescued from a breeder where they were living in an over-crowded enclosure and being over bred. The three are being closely monitored, cared for, checked by a local veterinarian at regular intervals, and are being exhibited in consultation with the Turtle Conservancy. Following the end of the exhibition on October 5, the tortoises will find new homes in conservation and educational facilities selected in collaboration with the Turtle Conservancy.
The statement also included this assessment of the tortoises’ health from veterinarian Elizabeth Kremzier, who has been monitoring the creatures since their arrival in Aspen:
I have worked with the staff from the Aspen Art Museum since the initial planning phase of the Cai Guo-Qiang project. Without question, the welfare of the Tortoises has taken the highest priority in every stage of this exhibit. The environmental and nutritional needs of the animals have been met and are monitored closely. Environmental enrichment has been provided, and every attempt has been made to minimize stress on the animals. In my opinion, the tortoises have adapted well to their new habitat, and the I-pads have not interfered in any way with their natural behavior.
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