Architecture as Public Interface

[UPDATED] Protesters light up New York’s Guggenheim to challenge working conditions in the Gulf region

Art East
G.U.L.F.'s spontaneous architectural protest at the Guggenheim on Wednesday night. (Courtesy G.U.L.F)

G.U.L.F.’s spontaneous architectural protest at the Guggenheim on Wednesday night. (Courtesy G.U.L.F)

Hot on the heels of the perversely beautiful, working solid-gold toilet that will be installed at the Guggenheim, a group of protesters calling themselves the Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) projected the words “Ultra Luxury Art/Ultra Low Wages” onto the walls of the Guggenheim Museum to “send a message to the trustees of the Guggenheim Foundation.” The group also took the message to the building of the chairman of the board.

G.U.L.F. is the direct action arm of the Gulf Labor Coalition, an organization of activists and artists who have been pressuring museums building in Abu Dhabi to confront the mistreatment of migrant workers in the region by ensuring fair labor standards. The Guggenheim is a target of this message because “a museum that seeks to profit from forced labor will be judged in public. The cynical marriage of ultra-luxury art and ultra-low wages is null and void. The museum’s leaders broke trust by refusing further negotiations with the Gulf  Labor Coalition over fair labor standards in Abu Dhabi. As they try to walk away from justice, who will hold them to account?”

In an email, G.U.L.F. signed off with

Every Day is May Day

A Storm is Blowing from Saadiyat Island

G.U.L.F.

UPDATE

Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 4:52 PM

The Guggenheim’s Deputy Director of Global Communications Tina Vaz told AN in an email:

“This latest action by Gulf Labor is another example of their willingness to attack the Guggenheim for easy publicity versus pursuing a program of thoughtful advocacy. Their demands are not only beyond the Guggenheim‘s direct line of influence but beyond the influence of any single arts institution. We are leveraging our advocacy to its fullest, but the issues they are focused on are highly complex and involve many players. The Guggenheim and our UAE partner, the Tourism Development & Investment Company, have dedicated significant energy and resources to and made measurable progress on the issue of workers’ welfare.”

UPDATE

Thu, Apr 28, 2016 at 6:08 PM

Gulf Labor’s Andrew Ross told AN in an email:

“Over the last six years, Gulf Labor members have devoted countless hours of uncompensated labor doing research in the field–taking testimony from workers and building contacts with them—writing reports, articles, and books (see The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor), making agit prop art (52 Weeks, and residency at the Venice Biennale), engaging in dialogue with a range of institutions, including NYU, the Guggenheim, and the Louvre, building partnerships with a range of NGOs (including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, ILO, and ITUC), and spinning off initiatives like Who Builds Your Architecture? Andrew Ross of Gulf Labor told AN in an email:

By contrast, the Guggenheim, despite the vast power of its brand name, has done little but dragged its feet. In the face of all our cumulative efforts to raise labor standards in the Gulf, its shocking to hear a museum representative seek to denigrate committed, hard-working artists and writers as publicity-seekers.The museum leadership and trustees should be ashamed. And, if they do not take action soon, the Guggenheim name will be further tarnished by its association with human rights abuses.”

UPDATE 

Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 12:16 PM

Vaz told AN in an email:

“The facts do not support Gulf Labor’s attempts to revise history. Those who are knowledgeable about the Guggenheim‘s engagement in Abu Dhabi – including artists, diplomats and NGOs – are all too familiar with the resources we have dedicated to this issue since 2007, including countless meetings, contributions to the Employment Practices Policy that governs working conditions on Saadiyat Island, and visits to see the workers’ accommodation village ourselves. Meanwhile, most of Gulf Labor’s work has been dedicated to generating media attention that is singularly focused on the Guggenheim, instead of a sincere effort to develop an advocacy program to address labor rights. Their continued attacks on us underscore the unproductive nature of their approach, which is precisely what led us to discontinue direct meetings.”

UPDATE

Sat, Apr 30, 2016 at 2:56 PM

Ross told AN in an email:

“Look behind the museum’s PR facade and you will still find the grim reality of workers conditions in Abu Dhabi. Every investigative team to visit the Gulf states has reported that there is near-zero political will to enforce labor regulations. If the Guggenheim leaders continue to put their trust in the UAE authorities and shun NGO expertise, then they will be stepping away from the obligation to improve the welfare of hundreds of thousands of workers by setting a fair labor precedent.”

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