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More Cruelty as Art, This Time in San Fran

First a dog was starved to death in a gallery in Costa Rica. Now the San Francisco Art Institute is displaying “Don’t Trust Me,” a video installation in which six animals are shown being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer by the “artist.”

What else is there to say? In Defense of Animals has created a petition asking the SFAI to remove the exhibit and to refrain from featuring such horrific acts of cruelty in the future. Sign it!

UPDATE: The SFAI has temporarily suspended the exhibit, and it’s holding a public meeting on Monday. Be there and speak your piece, if you can.
What: Public forum to discuss art and ethics and whether killing animals can ever be considered art
When: Monday, March 31 at noon
Where: San Francisco Art Institute Main Campus (in the lecture hall), 800 Chestnut Street


  1. Comment by


    on #

    This is ridiculous

  2. Comment by

    Olivia Lane

    on #

    Totally ridiculous. Since when have watercolors and charcoal gone out of style? Is animal cruelty really what it takes to be successful as an artist these days? Scary.

    I’m a struggling artist. Clearly I need to go to Adel Abdessemed’s studio and bludgeon my way into art star status. I just really want to create dialog.

    This is so stupid and offensive to artists.

  3. Comment by


    on #

    I will never understand how people could do such things, and why others don’t stand up for the poor beings who cannot speak for themselves. I am not a violent person by any stretch of the imagination, but I would happily watch the “artist” who commits such cruel acts be beaten and starved in just the same way. I feel so sad for these animals.

  4. Comment by


    on #

    I posted a comment on the newspaper article response thread if anyone is interested (about the fact that whether or not this is “art” is really besides the point). What I am wondering is where the author (Roseann) on Supervegan got her information that the artist is the one who struck the blows? It seems that he could claim to only have filmed (yes, exploited) the events and then not reveal who committed the violent acts. He could also argue that the killings were swift, so as to cause no pain, and point out that they are no worse then common methods of slaughter. I imagine he is prepared for objections and perhaps welcomes them. I would hope that there are some laws on the books that concern animal exploitation, not simply harm. Either way, it’s a sad situation. Besides exploiting innocent animals for career gain and voyeristic purposes, it promotes the artist (who seems to be quite the loser) no matter what happens, and it does a diservice to the status of contemporary art, which is already thought of as bunk by many.

  5. Comment by


    on #

    It would be extremely appropriate for this individual to be prosecuted on Animal cruelty charges and for the video to be used as evidence againgst him.

  6. Comment by

    Roseann Marulli

    on #

    JL, the wording of the intro to the IDA petition, as well as of the petition itself, suggests that Abdessemed did the killings (“…running an exhibit…made up of video images of six different animals…being bludgeoned to death…by someone calling himself an ‘artist’ “; “It takes absolutely no artistic talent or ability to kill animals, and to call Adel Abdessemed an ‘artist’…”). But even if he didn’t strike the blows himself, he arranged for these animals to be savagely beaten to death so that he could film it (from the Examiner piece: “The images are ‘of events that took place–and regularly take place–in the real world, on a regular basis’ “), so he is guilty all the same.

  7. Comment by


    on #

    Roseann, I agree fully. And just what is the probability that all six animals died in a non-cruel fashion? Perhaps the artist or his stand-in as SO good at this that they very rarely do not succeed in the first blow (of course if this is the case, then we REALLY have a problem). And what are we to think of any person who would set up such a situation that even runs a slight risk of serious suffering? Most likely, there was in fact horrible suffering resulting from the events set up to be filmed. In which case, the location where the event(s) occured (i.e., state, country,) should be divuldged as well as the exact identity of all parties as well as their particular roles. I would think the edited out footage could be helpful as well. If nothing illegal took place, then there should be nothing to hide, correct? I doubt the moral reprobation of people who respect non-humans will have any affect on this person. Legal problems are a different matter.

  8. Comment by


    on #

    From Today’s (Wed., March 26) SF Gate (Article):

    Noah’s art: Animal rights activists are up in arms over a San Francisco Art Institute video show called “Don’t Trust Me,” which features six animals – a deer, horse, goat, ox, pig and sheep – all being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer.

    The exhibit, by artist Adel Abdessemed, is billed as a series of “extremely short but provocative” videos lasting only a few seconds.

    For the past week or so, the videos have been shown on TVs around one of the institute’s galleries on Chestnut Street near Columbus Avenue.

    What the viewer sees is a sledgehammer dropping down and the animal dropping dead.

    According to the gallery’s Web site, the looped slaughter shorts “offer up gestures and facts, but resist the imposition of narrative constructions or automatic interpretations … making typical moral and cultural constraints seem beside the point.”

    But Michele Lagana, an animal rights activist who heard about the show from In Defense of Animals, had a different take.

    “Are they out of their minds?” Lagana said.

    Well, no sooner did we check out the exhibit for ourselves Tuesday than we got a call from Okwui Enwezor, the school’s dean of academic affairs, saying it was being shut down, at least temporarily. School officials say they will host a public forum at noon Monday to air criticism.

    “We want to make it clear that we take this act as a responsible institution, but also are committed to open and free and academic and artistic inquiry,” Enwezor said.

    The show is partly funded by the city’s hotel tax, which, among other things, supports arts projects.

    “I hope people don’t reduce it to the narrow view of whether public money should be used to support it,” Enwezor said.

    Interesting. Enwezor calls this an “act” (I guess this is artsy-speak for “exhibit”). This is closer to the truth than calling it “art,” but it was really a number of actions (6 to be precise). Next, he states that take it to be a “responsible institution”! Hmmm . . . killing and a variety of innocent animals with sledgehammers . . . “responsible.” That’s not really the first word that would come to my mind if my kid told me he just sledgehammered a few farm animals to death. “Good Billy, how responsible you are becoming”!
    In the case of this show, I just want the responsible party to be held legally accountable for his actions.
    Clearly, Enwezor is getting a bit sweaty about the possibility of losing some funding for his art school due negative press about this exhibit. Yes, the decision to run this show was an act of pure genius by school administration. Makes me want to give my last dollar to them to fund many more such great, cutting-edge, responsible “acts” such as this one. Let’s hope they learn a very tough lesson.

  9. Comment by


    on #

    This is the latest in a disturbing trend, I fear.
    FYI: There’s a federal law that covers animal cruelty videos, enacted in 1999 to stem the tide of so-called “crush videos.” Abdessemed’s video would fall under this statute if not for one thing: it’s “art” (see “Exception”). Text of the statute follows:

    18 USC 48 / PUBLIC LAW 106-152

    Sec. 48. – Depiction of animal cruelty
    (a) Creation, Sale, or Possession.
    Whoever knowingly creates, sells, or possesses a depiction of animal cruelty with the intention of placing that depiction in interstate or foreign commerce for commercial gain, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

    (b) Exception.
    Subsection (a) does not apply to any depiction that has serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value.

    I sent SFAI a letter. Here’s what I wrote:

    “Animal cruelty is not creative. Is it spectacular and evocative because it is cruelty. It’s human nature to react emotionally to scenes of blood and violence. There is nothing artistic, imaginative, or smart about it. There’s a difference between art that shocks us because it holds up a mirror to society or challenges our values or norms and images of animal cruelty that shock us because we’re witness to another being’s suffering.

    I’m outraged that you are exhibiting Don’t Trust Me. I will continue to be a supporter of the arts. I will never support the San Francisco Art Institute or Adel Abdessemed. This isn’t a ‘controversial work.’ It’s just plain animal cruelty and it represents the lowest form of human nature. And your exhibition of it is right down there, too.”

  10. Comment by


    on #

    Keramel, that’s a great letter. Well put. And thanks for the info on the animal cruelty law. Sadly, exception (b) is so completely vague and broad as to enable the argument for exclusion of almost any act detailed in (a). Just who or what determines whether or not something has serious religious, political . . . artistic value”?
    Basically, this states that one can exploit animals provided it adds some type of value to some human beings lives. Back to square one (but I guess because of the ways such laws are worded, the question of artistic merit is in fact relevant in this case, although I’m sure it doesn’t matter one iota in laws that cover human exploitation)

  11. Comment by

    banshee beat

    on #

    this is so stupid, people who can’t think of anything new in art so they have to kill animals for shock value? disgusting. they could have at least made fake animals! In Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibit in the Guggenheim he used fake animals (made of straw) for his art and it was very new and intriguing, you could see the artist’s ideas, how he obviously thought about what he did with his sculptures. this, on the other hand, is disgusting and repulsive and the artists obviously only thought about it minimally, relying mainly on shock value.

  12. Comment by


    on #

    Did you know that the guy who created the cutesy anti-capitalist sculptures in the subway station at 14th St. and 8th Av. is also responsible for a similarly reprehensible act in the name of art?

    The problem is that the laws regarding animals in this country are owned by the meat industry and by medical science. Think about it.

  13. Comment by


    on #

    I’m not convinced that the knee-jerk reaction of calling this ridiculous and starting a petition to censor it is smart.

    These are all animals that are routinely tortured, slaughtered and terrorized legally anyway.

    Wouldn’t this showcase the horrifying reality of killing animals to a number of meat-eating, leather wearing, hunting license toting onlookers?

    This art inspires people to act. It causes a violent reaction: people vomit, cry and ultimately think about the subject.

    Pretending violence doesn’t happen anyway and keeping it hidden from the public eye is shameful. If it offends you, look away.

    Instead of signing a petition to ban this project I urge everyone to begin pushing fur wearers in mud puddles.

  14. Comment by


    on #

    ZZ this is not about free speech, it’s about animal cruelty. These animals are not symbols, as a word is a symbol, or as a flag is a symbol. They were beaten to death solely for this video presentation.

  15. Comment by


    on #

    ZZ this is not about free speech vs. censorship, it’s about animal cruelty. They were beaten to death solely for this video presentation.

  16. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Well, I did sign the petition, but I agree with a lot of what Zachary says. On the great moral scale, this really isn’t worse than a couple of hamburgers. And if it gets people thinking and talking about cruelty, that’s hardly a bad thing.

    (And if nothing else, it’s definitely art. Cruel, depraved, violent, selfish, needy, destructive, vile art. But still art.)

  17. Comment by


    on #

    sure. shitting on someone’s face is art, or pissing on a baby. sure. anything can be considered artistic expression…but the point being made is an ethical one, that such behavior, such treatment of animals is unethical. The question isn’t, is this art, but rather, is this ethical. And the answer is, NO. to kill an animal for the sake of art is wrong. And a an artistic video of animal torture isn’t going to change the mind of a close-minded hunter. If it would, then, that same hunter would’ve already changed his or her mind the first time they killed another living being.

  18. Comment by


    on #

    Ditto to what Al said. There is a disconnect, that anyone involved in the movement see in others, between using animal products and understanding the death of the animal. To Zachary: I agree people should see animals being killed, but it should be from undercover slaughterhouse videos, not animals being killed for “art.” People will make the exception for their meat and animal products even after seeing this video because they think they need these products in their life. But by showing them a slaughterhouse video it makes that which is behind the scenes an actuality, something they can grasp – this is the suffering that goes into your hamburger! Before I was vegan, I never made that connection. I never once thought about how the animals were treated. I couldn’t possibly, the undercover videos and my eyes never crossed paths.

  19. Comment by


    on #

    “And if nothing else, it’s definitely art. Cruel, depraved, violent, selfish, needy, destructive, vile art. But still art.”

    I totally agree. It’s horrifyingly unethical. But should we take it down? Boycott the gallery? No.

    We can’t bring those animals who died back to life or make their fate any better, but we can offer those animals to speak for animal advocacy. This has started so many conversations, like the conversation we vegan/vegetarian and compassionate people are having in this blog, with a much broader range of people with different ideals and backgrounds.

    Have a dialog with the artist. Speak your truth to the person responsible of orchestrating the violent and horrifying video.

  20. Comment by


    on #

    Zachary and Jason. It is pretentious to consider this as art. I reject your diatribes.

  21. Comment by


    on #

    My two cents on some of the previous posts:
    1. The fact that the act cannot be undone does not exempt it from moral of legal culpability. If so, then nearly every crime, immoral act, etc., would be exempt (i.e., 9-11, murder, child molestation, etc.).

    2. The fact that an act has some postive outcomes again does not make it value-neutral. If this was the case, then (again) 9-11 would be good, in that (some say) it created a sense of solidarity among US citizens (though I would disagree). Or, to use a fictious yet more germane example, an art exhibit of a video showing a set-up situation depicting a barbaric female circumcision could be viewed as “good” because it opened a dialog and created public awareness of a practice which is still commonly practiced in thoughout the world, and in particular, in certain African nations. Will I do really hope some good comes from this situation, this has no bearing upon what I think of what was done.

    3. The fact that animals are slaughtered and abused all the time has no bearing on the moral value of this particular action. Obviously, abuse, child molestation, etc., happens “all the time” but this does not exempt any specific case from responsibility.

    The artist IS clearly culpable for blame in this case. The gallery may be as well; at minimum, anyone who cares should not support this gallery in the future.
    Morality, if it means anything at all, must not be thought of as completely relativistic in nature. ALL animal supporters are making universal moral claims regarding what the right treatment of animals should be. Thus, we are not relativists, and for good reason. Galleries tend to protect themselves behind the wall of unfair “censorship.” They are often correct, as in cases of Mapplethorp photographs, etc. However, male nudity on public display does not physically harm any innocent sentient being. This public display did. So, call it what you want, certain (perhaps few) things should be tollerated under the banner of the “art” moniker. This in one of them. All parties know full well that a child molestation video or human snuff film could NEVER be protected as a “work of art.” If we view the suffering of non-human animals as morally relevant, the we must conclude that this act is in that category. We do, so we must.

    An aside on the contemporary art world . . .
    It seems to me that the movers and shakers in contemporary art are completely out of touch with sensible moral reasoning. All you have to do is read some of their blubs describing art (this exhibit is a prime example) to see that they express themselves in locutions that are vague and hyperbollic to the extent that they really say nothing at all. Of course, these works of “art” need such descriptions, else they run the risk of being labled as what they really are: a snippet of flim; a bunch of odd objects placed in a gallery setting, a “what the hell is that” but “I’m the first to do it!” visual representation.

  22. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    I just found this interesting update/recap on the Costa Rican dog from today’s Guardian you may want to read..

  23. Comment by


    on #

    Art my behind! That’s just a poor excuse for animal cruelty without any fines. Art is supposed to be something people can appreciate.

  24. Comment by


    on #

    If animal abusement in art would do somothing good in general
    for the animals, it means that all the artist in the world who are animals right side has to start torttune and kill animals for animals rights, in galleries, museums in the streets and so on. doing it so many times than they can. That makes no sense. People give too much freedom for artis, that freedom is away from living beings. It means that everybody who is tortturing animals could say that they are just doing art or practising doing art like artis who are abusing animals also. Or that artits who kills and abuse animals more and more, imgaine example burn whole zoo and animals whit it and make video of it, this kind of artis is greatest animal defencer in the world, a hero. Is this what people want from art, to see how life is dying and animal is suffering. We have videos from furfactories and animaltesting places why they dont but it to galleries, that woud be more shoking than Hirst or anybody else, and it would be document and realistick point of view form real life. animal abuser artis are living in rationalized world like hiter and stalin!!!