MCA Denver’s “Thinking About Flying” exhibit is doing wrong by pigeons. They are
sending these extraordinary, intelligent, and highly social birds—who mate for
life and form strong bonds with other pigeons—home with any visitor to the
museum who asks, on the premise that the people will release the birds and see
if they can find their way back to a rooftop loft. Will anyone eat a pigeon?
Keep them in a tiny box for life as a “pet”? Or, if released, will the birds be
at risk, as “racing pigeons” always are, of running into power lines, getting
lost, and not knowing how to feed themselves—of being picked off by a hawk or
running into bad weather that downs them, among other hazards?
pigeons’ remarkable navigation abilities and intelligence, many birds die when
they fly into unexpected bad weather, are poisoned, or are attacked by predators
while trying to return to their lofts. If they must land because of injury,
exhaustion, or high winds, they will often starve to death because they were
born in captivity and haven’t a clue how to fend for themselves out there. The
decision by the artist and MCA Denver to encourage that the birds be taken to
strangers’ homes in crates, with the strangers then trusted to release them from
unfamiliar locations up to 100 miles away, only compounds these risks.
Pigeons also have complex and fragile social relationships. This
exhibition exploits these bonds by intentionally separating pigeons from their
mates, babies, and eggs; allowing them to be transported to the visitors’ homes;
and placing them in the care of people with whom they’re not familiar, which
creates intense anxiety for the birds. It is also irresponsible to trust museum
visitors who have no experience with pigeons to provide the proper concern and
care. This misguided endeavor, tragically, will result in incidents of abuse and
neglect, whether deliberate or not. This would be analogous to the museum
lending out dogs to visitors and then having these people release them in the
neighborhood in the hope that the dogs, who often have a keen ability to find
their way home, will find their way back to the museum.
The pigeons are
not another inanimate medium to be manipulated or voluntary participants in this
experimental installation but are sentient beings who are desperate to return
home to their mates, eggs, and offspring—and often don’t make it.
Contact Adam Lerner, director of MCA Denver, and urge the museum to
cancel this exhibition immediately and adopt a policy that prohibits the
exhibition of artwork that includes the use of live animals, the killing of
animals, or the bodies of animals killed specifically for the production of a
work of art.