A museum spokeswoman, asked to describe any threats or security issues, including whether the police had been notified, declined to discuss specifics. But the spokeswoman, Sarah Eaton, added, “The tone in both the petition comments and the social media postings, calls and emails was markedly different from what we’ve seen before and required us to take the threats very seriously.”
The Guggenheim has also been a target of protesters in recent years over its decision to build a museum in Abu Dhabi despite widespread concerns about labor conditions there. The Guggenheim has not withdrawn those plans.
For many artists and museum professionals, the latest moves at the Guggenheim and the Walker amount to an artistic capitulation in the face of heightened political sensitivities that have been amplified by social media.
“Museums are here to show works that are difficult, uncomfortable, provocative,” said Tom Eccles, executive director of the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. “The chilling effect of this of course is museums will now look to make exhibitions that won’t in any way offend.”
Similarly, PEN America called the Guggenheim’s decision “a major blow to artistic freedom.”
Others say the Guggenheim should have used the controversy as a moment to engage the public about difficult art.
“It’s just surprising that there was no call to see the side of the artists,” Mohini Dutta, a transmedia designer who teaches at Syracuse University, wrote in an email. “It’s sad, but not surprising that a populist institution like the Guggenheim caved, instead of using it as an opportunity to have a larger dialogue about consent, living props and uncomfortable art.”
In the case of the Walker, Dakota Indian leaders argued that Mr. Durant’s two-story structure in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden — which aimed to evoke gallows throughout United States history — brought back painful memories and trivialized the executions of the United States-Dakota war in 1862.
More often in the past, museums have resisted such pressure. In March, a small group of protesters blocked Dana Schutz’s painting in the Whitney Biennial based on open-coffin photographs of…