Members of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection occupation on May 8, 2014. (image by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

Members of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection occupation on May 8, 2014 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

VENICE — Friday’s three-hour occupation of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (PGC) in Venice by arts and activist organizations, including Gulf Labor, GULF (Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction), Sale Docks, and Macao, resulted in a brief meeting between a number of protesters and members of the PGC staff. Hyperallergic was the only arts publication live at the scene when the protesters emerged from the talks and recorded their thoughts on the discussion:

YouTube video

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the parent foundation of the global Guggenheim brand, released the following statement to Hyperallergic regarding the protest and occupation:

Statement from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

May 8, 2015  

As an international arts institution, we welcome the free exchange of ideas, but Gulf Labor continues to engage in public displays that misrepresent the truth about the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum project. We have nonetheless maintained open lines of communication with them and also met with their representatives on Friday in Venice.

Despite erroneous reports to the contrary, construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not yet begun. In advance, the Guggenheim has been collaborating with our local government partner, the Tourism Development and Investment Company, and other authorities and stakeholders inside and outside of the UAE to continue to advance progress on conditions for workers who will build the future museum.

We have been working closely on the issue with TDIC, which is the developer of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. TDIC has enacted reform on several fronts, including worker accommodation, access to medical coverage, grievance procedures, and retention of passports.

Unfortunately, some critics have unfairly singled out the Guggenheim Foundation and spread misinformation about its role and responsibility on the project. We have acted in good faith, but we are still the subject of demonstrations. We have consistently informed Gulf Labor of our efforts, but they have yet to acknowledge them publicly.

We believe the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi presents an opportunity for a dynamic cultural exchange and to chart a more inclusive and expansive view of art history. That mission guides our development of the museum’s curatorial vision, collection and exhibition program, and we are committed to the transformative potential of this arts project.

While the Guggenheim continues to assert that its Abu Dhabi project is not currently being built, Gulf Labor refutes the claim by pointing out that the roads and infrastructure for the Guggenheim project are currently being constructed on site, and that the museum’s inaugural Seeing Through Light exhibition at Abu Dhabi’s Manarat Al Saadiyat gallery on Saadiyat Island also employs a number of migrant workers as guards.

Hyperallergic was present at a March interview with one of the guards at the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi exhibition. When asked about his financial arrangements, the guard openly discussed the issue of the loan he had to pay in his home country in order to get a contract in the UAE. He told interviewers that the cost of the loan was very high and greatly impacted the amount he could save and send back to his family, which depends on his income. The guard discussed the fact that he did not feel like he could ever turn down overtime, and often worked very long hours, sometimes seven days a week. The guard was being housed in a modern and clean “workers’ camp” on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, but the facility had a mandatory curfew (10pm) and was situated beside an artificial body of water that had the strong smell of sewage.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.