Guggenheim Breaks Off Relations with Human Rights NGOs

When the Guggenheim walked away from six years of negotiations with Gulf Labor in April, director Richard Armstrong singled out our tactics as the reason. It now appears that this response was openly duplicitous. In fact, the museum leadership has also refused any further dialogue with the leading human rights organizations that Gulf Labor brought to the table.

For years, the Guggenheim has protested about being singled out among the arts institutions invested in Saadiyat Island. Accordingly, Human Rights Watch and the ITUC wrote to all three museums, inviting them to a summit in Brussels or London. While openly encouraging such an initiative, the Guggenheim (along with the British Museum) flatly turned down this invitation, and the Guggenheim never bothered to respond when further questioned by HRW and the ITUC about the future of dialogue with the NGOs. This is another bad decision on the part of the museum’s leadership. Either that or they are forbidden by their Gulf paymaster to talk to anyone with expertise in the field of human and labor rights.

In the meantime, the museum has declared its trust in the labor monitoring process overseen by TDIC. Here is our response to the latest monitoring report from PricewaterhouseCooper, which clearly shows how many of TDIC’s employee policies continue to go unenforced.

Here are the letters sent by the Guggenheim and the British Museum. The Louvre never responded at all.

Artists in Guggenheim “Storm” show urge return to negotiations

The artists listed below have work included in the Guggenheim Museum’s collection and in the UBS MAP exhibition: But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa. We express our disappointment over the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation’s recent decision to end dialogue with the Gulf Labor Coalition, concerning labor practices in the construction of their Abu Dhabi Museum. As artists connected in various ways to this region, we believe in new institutions as cultural forces; we support their creation but also believe they can be catalysts for greater social change. We hope that the Guggenheim remains committed to innovation on both a representational as well as a structural level. Furthermore, we believe that dialogue is the most productive way forward for all parties involved. This exhibition is one form of dialogue and we regret that it opens amidst the current development in the exchange between the museum and GLC. We urge the museum to reconsider and reverse its decision to terminate its dialogue with GLC and affiliated NGOs.

Abbas Akhavan
Kader Attia
Ali Cherri
Mariam Ghani
Joana Hadjithomas
Iman Issa
Khalil Joreige
Hassan Khan
Ahmad Mater
Zineb Sedira

Statement from Bidoun

“Bidoun Projects supports the ongoing work of the Gulf Labor Coalition, a transnational group of artists, writers, and scholars who for six years have worked to draw attention to the conditions under which the future Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will be built, and to the precarious status of migrant workers in the region. 

Last week, after years of dialogue, the Guggenheim announced that it would no longer engage in direct discussions with the coalition. While the GLC has not asked Bidoun to withdraw our film program at this time, we trust that talks between the Guggenheim and the coalition will be resumed forthwith and that the welfare of the workers building the museum in Abu Dhabi will be guaranteed.”

- issued as part of the announcement of the film and video program, curated by Bidoun Projects, accompanying the upcoming exhibition But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa at the Guggenheim New York.

Gulf Labor Coalition responds to PwC’s 4th Annual Monitoring Report

Summary: In its 4th annual report, the PwC monitor reiterated its previous findings by reporting serious oversights and deficiencies in the Tourism Development & Investment Company’s compliance with its own Employment Practices Policy on Saadiyat Island. Moreover, some of the new findings suggest serious flaws in the monitor’s own methodologies.

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G.U.L.F. Protests Resume After Guggenheim Ends Negotiations

On April 27, after the Guggenheim ended negotiations with Gulf Labor Coalition to protect workers in Abu Dhabi, members of G.U.L.F. used the walls of the Guggenheim museum in New York to send a message to the trustees. Their statement in full:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

April 27, 2016

Tonight, the Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.)  used the walls of the Guggenheim Museum to send a clear message to the trustees of the Guggenheim Foundation. We also took the message to the building of the chairman of the board. 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?

Every Day is May Day

A Storm is Blowing from Saadiyat Island

G.U.L.F.

Gulf Labor Responds to Guggenheim Breaking off Negotiations

GADcrossedPress release (PDF) here: 
http://gulflabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Gulf_Labor_Press_Release_Apr18.pdf

Timeline (PDF):
http://gulflabor.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Gulf_Labor_Timeline_April18.pdf

Guggenheim Breaks Off Negotiations with Gulf Labor

On April 13, 2016, Guggenheim Board of Trustees unilaterally severed negotiations with the Gulf Labor Coalition (GLC). In a conference call, the Guggenheim1 informed GLC that they will no longer meet with us, nor listen to our proposals about the living and working conditions of the workers who are and will be building museums in Abu Dhabi.

On April 17, 2016, Richard Armstrong, Director of the Guggenheim Museum, sent an email to artists, art critics, curators, and museum directors all over the world describing GLC as a group that “continues to shift its demands,” is “continuing to spread mistruths,” and uses “deliberate falsehoods”.2 He insisted that no work had begun on the Abu Dhabi site, a recurring claim that GLC has already challenged.3
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  1. Represented by Juan Ignacia Vidarte (Deputy Director and Chief Officer for Global Strategies), Tina Vaz (Deputy Director, Global Communications), and Hanan Sayyed Worrell (Guggenheim senior representative in Abu Dhabi). []
  2. See http://hyperallergic.com/291594/guggenheim-breaks-off-negotiations-with-gulf-labor-over-migrant-rights []
  3. http://gulflabor.org/2015/construction-of-the-guggenheim-abu-dhabi-has-not-yet-begun-a-response []

The Guardian on the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and finances on Saadiyat

louvrebirth

The Guardian has a long piece today on the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and Saadiyat Island’s developments.

The large financial deals are recapped in the article, as below:

“In 2007, Abu Dhabi signed a deal with French officials worth over £663m to buy the use of the Louvre’s name, to construct the Jean Nouvel-designed building that will house the art, and to facilitate special exhibitions and cultural loans from French institutions. The museum is scheduled to open next year. The Louvre branding itself is worth over half the value of the total: £344m for a period of 30 years.

A similarly gargantuan sum was promised to the Guggenheim, which will open its outpost in Abu Dhabi in 2017 or later (the project has been much delayed). Curators have been granted a £400m budget for new acquisitions, while the museum designed by Frank Gehry – a medieval jumble of cones and impossible angles – will cost £530m to build.”

Note that these figures are in UK Pounds.

Our financial proposals to the Guggenheim include a better and living wage for workers ( 25 percent above the 250 USD per month average) and a one time debt relief fund of USD 2,000 per worker, which assuming 7,500 workers is 15 million USD.  That’s just about 1 percent of the combined building and acquisitions budget.

These demands are detailed below (from a letter to the Guggenheim dated March 6, 2015):

Gulf Labor proposes that:

1. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi create a Debt Settlement Fund (DSF) to compensate every worker who is building its museum on Saadiyat Island an additional $2,000 on top of wages earned (or, assuming an aggregate workforce of 7500—as in the case of the Louvre — around $15 million in additional total payments to workers). The DSF will address one of the most intractable labor problems in the UAE: recruitment debt. Independent investigators have established that the average recruitment debt burden per worker is $2000. (1)

2. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi ensures a fair wage for all workers employed on its construction site. Recent scholarly analysis of the UAE migrant labor market has demonstrated that wages are depressed by at least 25% relative to previous levels of compensation. (2) Moreover, our own research has found great disparities among workers, based on the place of origin, caste and community and terms of contract, even for the same work. We will work with the museum to establish a living wage for all workers on the site. This living wage will compensate both for the 25% wage depression and for the disparities cited above.

3. Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will work to guarantee workers have the freedom to associateand the right to collectively address grievances. This will prevent the growing cycle of intimidation and violence, imprisonment and deportation that has taken place, especially since 2013.