It seemed like a story fit for Disney. An intrepid and beautiful young artist approaches a local gallery with an outrageous idea: spend five days butt naked in a pen with two piglets to raise awareness about animal rights and save the creatures from a nasty death in an illegal Hialeah slaughter farm. Together, they save the pigs, make headlines -- if not serious cash -- and find a comfy home for the animals. Cue the credits.
But according to animal activist Ana Campos, Miru Kim's much celebrated Art Basel performance has a filthy underbelly: art gallery Primary Flight ignored advice on how to take care of the pigs, neglected their health, and left them on a tiny Little Haiti farm taped up inside a cardboard box. The gallery didn't even donate the funds it promised to take care of them, she alleges.
"When I saw them, they had pneumonia and their ribs were sticking out," Campos says. "Primary Flight got a boatload of money and a boatload of attention... but the back-story is not so pretty."
UPDATE: "I am still not sure about why the animal rights activists are so upset," Kim told Riptide in an email. Read below for her full response.
The gallery's owners did not return Riptide's calls to comment on Campos' accusations. When we hear back, we'll update the post.
Campos, a longtime Miami animal rights activist, says she first learned about Kim's proposed performance piece from a friend in late November. She contacted the artist -- known for taking naked photos of herself in odd places -- and asked her not use the pigs.
Kim went ahead with her plans, but assured Campos that she had asked Primary Flight to find the pigs a sanctuary after Art Basel.
"I know she had good intentions," Campos says of Kim,
who couldn't be contacted. "She cares about the pigs."
Kim admits that she had been contacted by Campos before the show, but called it "an aggressive long email."
"A stranger sent an offensive email to me," Kim said. "Her message was very off-putting, and all I could do was respond to her that the pigs were coming from a slaughterhouse and afterwards they will not be killed, rather be taken care of. I think most normal people would have ignored her first message."
Campos says she also tried to warn the Design District gallery not to give the pigs away to just anyone, but her emails went unanswered. When she finally asked co-owner Chris Oh in person, she was assured Primary Flight would take them to a sanctuary in Little Haiti, she says.
Instead, Campos alleges, the pigs were sealed up in cardboard boxes and dropped off at the tiny, one-acre Earth 'N' Us Farm at NE 76th Street and First Avenue on December 5. The farm's owner, Ray Chasser, says someone from Primary Flight said the gallery would pay him $8,000 to take care of the pigs.
But things went sour in a hurry, according to Chasser.
"One was sick when it came here," says Chasser. "It wouldn't eat, wouldn't get up." When he complained, he says the gallery initially denied it.
"Then another guy [from the gallery] said, 'Oh yeah, they are sick. Here are some suppositories,'" says Chasser. "But there ain't no way that you're going to give those pigs suppositories. I'm not. When I tried, one threw me on the ground."
The pigs started hacking and coughing. They grew thinner by the day. (Another one of Chasser's pigs would later die from contamination.) And Primary Flight never paid the farm a dime, Chasser and Campos say.
Finally, a gallery liaison who had worked with Kim checked on the pigs. He sent Campos and email saying that there was a problem on December 19.
Campos rushed to Earth 'N' Us. Unlike a couple of weeks earlier, the pigs ribs were sticking out, she says. Their skin had started to turn gray.
"One of them had a waistline," she says. "Pigs aren't supposed to have waistlines."
She scrambled to find a home for them before finally settling on CJ Acres, a real animal sanctuary in Keystone Heights. Now she just needed to get them there.
She and some friends picked up the pigs on December 23. The next day, Christmas Eve, Campos loaded them into the back of her PT Cruiser and drove nine hours north.The sick pigs filled her car with shit, but Campos got them there alive.
CJ Acres employees unload the pigs from Campos's PT Cruiser
courtesy of Ana Campos
"I had a mask on at the very end because the smell was toxic," she says. "Parts of my car have been removed. I have to get it detailed. And it's always going to smell like a pig. But I have to accept that."
CJ Acres employees later told Campos that the pigs both had pneumonia. They are currently on triple antibiotics, but expected to recover. You can donate to the sanctuary here.
This still ain't a Disney fable, however. Campos is pissed at Chasser for accepting the pigs for money when she says he couldn't take proper care of them. And she says the ordeal proved her right to warn Kim not to use the animals in the first place.
But she reserves her real anger for Primary Flight.
"This is what happens when you exploit an animal for profit," she says. "It turns into a three ring circus. They had the opportunity to do the right thing and they just failed."
Chasser is harsher still.
"The whole thing was totally irresponsible," he says. "Putting them into this art exhibit was almost as exploitative as the slaughter house."
Kim, meanwhile, says she didn't know about the pigs' tribulations until recently.
"I was worried about the pigs so when I was back in NY I kept asking the gallery if they were ok," she said in an email to Riptide. "I was told that they were. And I pledged 1000 dollars out of my portion of the print sale for immediate care. All of sudden I got an email from the CJ Acres Sanctuary about the pigs being brought there, along with some threatening facebook messages from an animal rights activist (that wasn't ms. campos but her coworker)... I was all of sudden bombarded with how miserable the pigs were and such, and I clarified my situation with everyone."
"[I] hope we can all be happy that the pigs are now happy," Kim said. "There are hundreds of thousands of pigs being slaughtered everyday. My work, I hope, brought some consciousness to the audience about how close in essence human beings are to animals like pigs."
"I hope that the animal rights activists would focus more on educating masses and attacking large corporate farms that damage the environment and ignore human rights, rather than a small art gallery that put up a show that made people feel something about how animal we all are," she added.
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Campos releases the pigs at the animal sanctuary in Keystone Heights
courtesy of Ana Campos