iPads mounted on tortoises? Aspen Art Museum defends installation

An installation at the Aspen Art Museum featuring live tortoises has garnered the ire of animal-rights activists who said that the work is cruel because it requires the reptiles to carry Apple iPads on their shells.

But the museum has defended the work of art, saying that the three tortoises are being properly cared for and that the iPads add negligible weight for the animals.

The work in question, “Moving Ghost Town,” is by the popular artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The criticism comes as the Colorado museum is celebrating the opening of its new $45 million home, designed by architect Shigeru Ban.

An online petition has described the art installation as “animal abuse.” It demands that the museum remove the iPads from the tortoises’ shells and that the animals be relocated to a sanctuary.

The petition has accumulated more than 1,000 signatures. It contains a comment attributed to PETA, the animal-rights group, which states that the organization is looking into the matter.


A museum spokeswoman released a statement Wednesday that said the tortoises have been looked after and monitored by experts.

“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,” spokeswoman Sara Fitzmaurice said.

An official description of the work sent by Fitzmaurice and featured on the museum’s website states that the iPads are affixed to the shells using a noninvasive epoxy substance that “removes easily and cleanly without damaging the tortoise’s shell.”

The animals receive weekly visits by the museum’s local veterinarian, along with “constant monitoring” by the staff, according to the museum. Following the exhibition, the tortoises will find new homes in conservation and educational facilities selected in collaboration with the Turtle Conservancy.

The three animals featured in the installation are African sulcata tortoises rescued from a breeder in Arizona, according to the museum. It said that the exhibition provided a chance to remove the tortoises from the breeder.

“Moving Ghost Town” is scheduled to be on display at the museum’s rooftop sculpture garden through Oct. 5.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT