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Guggenheim Responds: Guards Paid Competitively, Gugg Abu Dhabi Not Under Construction, No Public Forum [UPDATED]

by Hrag Vartanian on February 25, 2014

A close-up of some of the banners unfurled during the Saturday, February 22 intervention by G.U.L.F. at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

A close-up of some of the banners unfurled during the Saturday, February 22 intervention by G.U.L.F. at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Since last Saturday’s protest action there has been considerable back and forth in the form of statements and responses between the Guggenheim Foundation and G.U.L.F., a coalition that staged the intervention inside the Guggenheim Museum.

After yesterday’s response by G.U.L.F., we asked the Guggenheim:

  • to clarify if G.U.L.F.’s claim that museum guards are paid $10/hour was accurate,
  • if the claim that construction of the Saadiyat Island infrastructure has been underway for several years was accurate, and
  • if they intended to heed the call on the museum to “open its doors to a free public assembly on these issues on Saturday March 1.”

Today, the Guggenheim responded to our queries.

Regarding one guard’s claim that he was only paid $10/hour, they responded: 

We do not publish confidential salary information but I can assure you that the security officers employed by the Guggenheim, who comprise the majority of our front line security team, are paid competitively with their peers at other museums with comparable operating budgets and substantially more than the $10 quoted. As well, our Guggenheim security officers receive a benefits package that we offer to all our full time employees, including group health, dental, life insurance, and the museum contributes to the employees’ retirement plans. Additionally, the Guggenheim uses contract security officers to supplement its own security team on an as needed basis.

I asked the Guggenheim what the guard might have meant, since I myself had heard the guard yell that figure at protesters as they were leaving the museums, and I received this reply:

Regarding the security guard — perhaps he is one of the contract security officers that the museum uses on an as needed basis. If so, the hourly rate that he is paid is determined by the outside company which, like all employers, must comply with federal and state wage requirements.

Regarding the question as to whether the museum or its infrastructure is under construction on Saadiyat Island, the Guggenheim replied:

The posting is incorrect. The museum is not currently under construction. There are no workers on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site. It is also important to put the museum building project and our relationships in Abu Dhabi into context. We have had a collaborative relationship with TDIC (the authority responsible for building the museum) including working with them to improve the EPP (which governs workers rights), many of us have visited the construction village regularly and seen the living conditions that will be available to workers building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and, along with our colleagues at TDIC, we continue to invest in this relationship to encourage progress on labor issues in advance of any construction taking place.

When I pointed out that the Saadiyat Island website, and a statement in 2011 in The Art Newspaper, indicates that construction started in 2011, the Guggenheim suggested we contact Abu Dhabi’s Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC) for clarification. We have sent a query to TDIC and will update the post accordingly. [UPDATE BELOW]

In regards to our question as to whether the Guggenheim will accept G.U.L.F.’s call for a free public forum, we received the following reply:

While we will continue to engage in dialogue with numerous parties, we do not plan to hold a public forum on Saturday, March 1 as suggested in the posting.

UPDATE: The TDIC has responded our query and provided the following information about the state of construction at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi site:

Kindly note that currently there is no construction taking place for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi  – and therefore, no workers are on site. As the Saadiyat website correctly states, the only work that took place was in 2011 during two separate phases: the concrete pour for museum’s ‘back of house’ areas, as well as the platform from which the main museum and gallery structures will be built from; and the placement of 1,400 piles. We plan to announce the museum’s main contractor appointment this year, and with that construction is set to begin according to schedule for the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s opening in 2017.

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  • thorn

    thanks for your truly informative coverage on this story!

  • Paul Werner

    Hrag, your article has been picked up on a blog run by members of ICOM. ICOM is the International Council on Museums, THE international organization of museum professionals, affiliated with Unesco: people who will be on the front lines in making the Gug Abu Dhabi possible – or impossible.

    Congratulations, Hrag. Good work, G.U.L.F.!

    • Cat Weaver

      Hey, Paul, do you have a link?

  • Stuart

    Readers may be interested in a lecture scheduled for tomorrow (Wed 2/26) in New York City about labor conditions for migrant workers in Abu Dhabi. Here is the info: https://www.facebook.com/events/399240200213274/. It is open to the public, but you have to show ID to the security guard to get in to NYU buildings. Enter on Washington Sq S thru the Kimmel Center.

  • DigDigDigDig

    “Perhaps he is one of the contract security officers that the museum uses on an as needed basis. If so, the hourly rate that he is paid is determined by the outside company …” So basically they are allowed to contract OTHER companies to pay $10 or slightly less an hour, and not provide benefits. Also, the Gugg can easily find out: a) whether or not any contract employees were working on the date of the protest, and b) how much they are paid. Total cop-out. Curious what TDIC has to say. Also – isn’t it likely that people who work with, or are socially friendly with, actual Guggenheim employees are involved in the protest?

  • vitaminC

    Shorter: “We haven’t started construction on the museum, just all the stuff around and under the museum. Stop being so mean!”

  • Cat Weaver

    It’s troubling: the hiding behind semantics. The lack of response to the Human Rights Watch report. The museum responds to questions regarding the importance of being there with “look on our site.” But sometimes the answer to a question is not semantics, sound bites and branded rhetoric.

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