Daily Poll: Animal Cruelty vs. Free Speech


The censorship battle rages on, this time in the arena where contemporary art faces off against animal rights activists. Should artists be allowed to show graphic depictions of animal abuse as a form of commentary, or do such images offend public decency and desensitize viewers? Closing arguments after the jump, then we let you be the judge.

First, some background: a fellow named Robert J. Stevens was convicted in Virginia under a 1999 federal law that makes it a crime to “sell, create, or possess videos or other depictions of cruelty to animals for commercial use” for peddling videos showing how to hunt wild boar.

His 37 month sentence was overturned last summer, and the law’s constitutionality heads to court on October 6, battled by a legal brief from The National Coalition Against Censorship and College Art Association. The brief asserts that all industries, from art to science to television to academia, are threatened by a censorship law that weighs the treatment of animals against the human right to discuss and analyze an issue like animal cruelty.

The law allows some exceptions for work with “serious value,” though it’s up to prosecutors, not art experts, to determine the gravity of said work. All things considered, how would lawyers perceive the following work by contemporary artists?

Wim Delvoye: Belgian enfant terrible repped by Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin whose irreverent body of work includes stuffed and tattooed pigs and x-ray photographs of rats.

Adel Abdessemed: French-Algerian video artist; controversial pieces depict animals fighting and being clubbed to death. The San Francisco Art Institute retracted his 2008 show “Don’t Trust Me” after protests by Bay Area animal rights groups.

Hermann Nitsch: The Austrian’s reputation as cult provocateur has been cemented with live performances re-enacting the Crucifixion with sacrificial lambs and other creatures; his paintings mix animal blood and acrylic paint.

What say ye, ladies and gentlemen of the jury?