‘Freedom of expression has always been and will remain a paramount value of the Guggenheim.” These are hollow words indeed from a museum that has just caved in to protesters and pulled three controversial works from a showpiece exhibition.

The show in New York, Art and China After 1989: Theatre of the World featured two videos: one has two pairs of salivating pit bulls facing each other on treadmills; another shows two pigs mating. The last work features lizards and insects devouring each other. Some of the works are claimed to symbolically convey oppression in China.

Expressions of outrage from animal rights groups and others quickly followed. An online petition, that favoured tool of bullies everywhere, attracted more than half a million signatures. Opponents questioned…