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Protesters Rain Down Thousands of Bills in Guggenheim Rotunda

by Mostafa Heddaya on March 30, 2014

Dollar bill leaflets rain down Guggenheim rotunda at 6:45 pm (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Dollar bill leaflets rain down Guggenheim rotunda at 6:45 pm (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

At 6:45 pm ET yesterday evening, a handheld bell sounded in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in New York, signaling the second protest action in as many months from the Global Ultra Luxury Faction, or G.U.L.F. The ringing was followed by the release of 9,000 “1%” bills of parodic currency which fluttered downward as patrons rushed to the inner edge of Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiral ramp. But unlike G.U.L.F.’s intervention at the museum late last month, there were no shouted demands or Occupy-style mic checks — the only sound that could be heard after the bills were released was the collective gasp of the hundreds of patrons who packed the museum, where lines for entry wrapped around the block (Saturdays are a free night). Posters and bills were also placed in the museum’s bathrooms and later posted in a number of the city’s subway stations and trains.

A view of some of the bills dropped during the protest action. (click to enlarge)

A view of some of the bills dropped during the protest action. (click to enlarge)

What’s more, the action also coincided with G.U.L.F.’s inauguration of their “sustainable design” competition, announced Friday on a spoof website, and followed New York Times op-ed published by the group’s Andrew Ross, a professor at New York University (NYU). (Though Ross was not at the Guggenheim, his 12-year-old daughter Zola rang the bell, while her younger sister Stella helped throw the bills.)

The event marks a transition away from G.U.L.F.’s previous Occupy-influenced style and an embrace of a more aesthetically-oriented strategy of protest. The group, a relatively new offshoot of the Gulf Labor coalition, has distinguished itself by injecting a dose of activist spectacle to the longstanding labor rights campaign. The action, explained Nitasha Dhillon of G.U.L.F., was inspired by Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 intervention at the New York Stock Exchange, where he orchestrated the dumping of dollar bills in the middle of the trading floor.

The dollar bills, designed by Noah Fischer, were printed at NYU on six different colors of paper and were produced and deployed collaboratively by the 20 or so people involved in this action. Artist and activist Amin Husain told Hyperallergic that the group intentionally skewed the run to red paper to achieve the maximum amount of contrast with the Guggenheim’s white interior. The bills themselves play on the traditional language of fiat currencies (“By the authority of shit is fucked up & bullshit,” “No sustainable cultural value”) while asking the pointed question: “What does an ethical global museum look like?”

Though none of the participants were arrested or detained by museum security, the Guggenheim’s staff responded to the incident in several ways. Photography was immediately banned in the rotunda — I overheard a guard characterize this to one confused patron as a lifting of a temporary condition of permission rather than a ban — and guards shut down the main floor. Ticketholders continued to be admitted until around 7:15 pm, when the museum shut down and all patrons were asked to leave. Gothamist’s Christopher Robbins told me that he had been escorted out of the museum by police officers at the behest of Guggenheim security, who apparently objected to his interviewing patrons regarding the incident.

We have reached out to the Guggenheim for comment on the protest action.

Update, 1:38 pm ET: The Guggenheim has provided Hyperallergic with the following statement. It is worth noting that the organization again denies that the Abu Dhabi structure is under construction, a claim addressed by Andrew Ross in his New York Times op-ed. (He wrote: “[T]he extensive foundation pilings and much of the surrounding infrastructure have already been laid.”)

Guggenheim Foundation Statement – March 30, 2014

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation has been and is currently engaged in ongoing, serious discussions with our most senior colleagues in Abu Dhabi and TDIC, the authority responsible for building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi museum, regarding workers’ rights. Our chairman of the board of trustees and director have just recently returned from meetings in Abu Dhabi where this issue was a top priority for discussion.

As global citizens, we share the concerns about human rights and fair labor practices and continue to be committed to making progress on these issues.  At the same time, it is important to clarify that the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is not currently under construction, despite erroneous claims by certain protesters.  The building foundations and pilings were completed in 2011.

While in Abu Dhabi in mid-March 2014, our director revisited the workers village to ensure that living conditions for workers who will work on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi will set new and respected standards for workers engaged in building other projects on Saadiyat Island.

The museum's first floor was cleared by security shortly after the action was completed

The museum’s first floor was cleared by security shortly after the action was completed

Interior view of pamphlet distributed to patrons

Interior view of pamphlet distributed to patrons

Poster placed in museum bathrooms

Poster placed in museum bathrooms

Cleaning staffers collect bills on main floor

Cleaning staffers collect bills on main floor

Bills float in main floor water feature

Bills float in main floor water feature

IMG_2341

Patrons read bills

Video courtesy Becca Rothfeld

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  • TravelMore75

    The cleaning staff are the “invisible” in the case of the Guggenheim NY. Ironically, they are the one’s who must clean up the protesters work.

    Ramiro Gomez & his artwork has highlighted this.

    http://www.LosOlvidadosFilm.com

  • http://www.johnalynnholland.com Johnalynn

    seriously, did these hashtag activists help clean up the mess or did they just tweet about their good deeds?

    • artist

      Change is messy. Someone will be inconvenienced, there is no way around it. Would you prefer acceptance of the current situation? Sorry, but acquiescence is approval.

      • Arvey Jones

        Oh such privilege in that statement. Just wondering if you were on the end of the cleaning up stick would you accept it? Would you make such a statement? How can we care about the migrant workers and not the low wage cleaners? Yes change is messy but there is a lot of change that is a heck of a lot messier than a few floating pieces of paper. Which would beg the answer is this type of action really going to produce any real change or will it just look good in the books and make some folks satisfied that they spoke up no matter how softly. When will folks speak loud and clear against the FULL injustice of the 1% who control the art world. We have more in common with each other, with the cleaners, with the migrant workers than we do with them.

        • Paul Werner

          Arvey, I’ve asked myself the same question, and I have to say I back this action 100%.
          The one thing that’s missing here is the wider picture:

          1) These activists are part of a much larger, non-privileged international group fighting for decent salaries for all. (Including eventually all cleaners.) Groups like Human Rights Watch, etc. Like you I do resent the tendency of the artistes (some of whom are my friends, BTW) to put themselves forward as if they, and they alone, made the whole thing work. It’s one of the things I hate about academics and intellectuals in general. But you know, that’s small potatoes next to the bigger issues.

          2) Your thought that the whole art world of museums is, and has always been, for the 1%? That’s simply not true. Don’t buy it. I’ve worked in and written about museums most of my life, including the Guggenheim, but also in the jail system. I know what I know.

          Cordially,

          Paul Werner, PhD, DSFS (Danger to the Security of the French State)
          Author, “Museum, Inc., Inside the Global Art World;” “Jump Jim Corot. Cash, Class and Culture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” etc.

        • http://9271977.com 9271977

          Ohh the irony

  • http://www.noahfischer.org Noah Fischer

    This action had to be secretive and not organized with
    groups connected to Guggenheim. To reach out to the guard and cleaning staff
    conspiratorially would have put their jobs in danger. During this campaign we
    have called for higher wages for Guggenheim guards who make $10 an hour. http://hyperallergic.com/111009/g-u-l-f-responds-to-guggenheim-calls-on-museum-to-open-its-doors-to-free-public-assembly/

    We brainstormed trying to sneak brooms into the museum and
    clean up bills. But in the end, the cleaning crew having to sweep up was a part
    of the action our planning did not adequately address, so as a member of
    G.U.L.F, I agree that criticism here is well founded.

  • http://copyrightlawcasebook.blogspot.com/ Brian Frye

    Atom & His Package – Anarchy Means I Litter

  • Anthony Thompson

    An Ethical Global Museum would look like it was designed by Santiago Calatrava! Make it happen, Guggenheim!

  • drager meurtant

    Nearly always sympathize with protesters. For (1) because they are pro, for (2) since they are testers. But as soon as either, GULF starts to take itself seriously, or it’s opponent (Guggenheim) does, they loose my interest.
    “Wish I had the strength, when subjected to a free fall, to shout: My, the colors, they are so beautiful”, says Drager Meurtant

  • Steve Veatch

    Whether it’s Walmart, McDonalds or the Guggenheim, they will never render economic justice until they are forced by law, unions, or something quite unpleasant or all three.

  • Madhava Verma Dantuluri

    Lot of issues around right.

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