After parodying the New Museum with a mock website to criticize its politics, the group Artists for Workers (AFW) has used the same technique to take aim at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
The group has launched the “Guggenheim Transparency Initiative,” a webpage that convincingly mimics the visual language and branding of the Guggenheim’s official website, to “put political pressure on the Guggenheim to improve material conditions for workers and build solidarity among artists and arts workers.”
AFW is composed of about a dozen New York-based American and international artists who have vowed to use their skills (including design, performance, and hacking) “to independently support the efforts of organizing and striking workers across different fields.” In an email to Hyperallergic, AFW clarified that it has launched its campaign independently from the Guggenheim union and that AFW members have no professional affiliation with the Guggenheim Museum.
Written from the perspective of the Guggenheim, the campaign “invites our extended community of artists, audience, and staff to envisage a more accountable and ethical institution as we begin preparations for reopening following our COVID-19 closure.”
AFW alleges to have acquired leaked internal documents, which are presented on the parody website and point to “significant wage gaps” across the museum’s departments “that aren’t explained by seniority or skill level.”
Based on the documents it obtained, AFW says that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) workers in the Facilities department are “paid on average $8,209.31 less than their white coworkers, despite having been at the Guggenheim an average of seven years longer than them.”
The group also points to a gender wage gap at the museum, citing two examples: A woman Crew Leader in the Guggenheim’s Multimedia Department “earns less than the men working under her”; And at the Art Services and Preparations (ASaP) department, the group says that the highest-paid, full-time woman workers “earns $3.81 per hour less than the highest-paid man despite having worked in the same role for longer than him.”
In an email to Hyperallergic, the Guggenheim Museum responded with a statement that said: “The Guggenheim Museum continues to engage in good faith negotiations with Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers for a collective bargaining agreement for the Guggenheim staff represented by Local 30. Our goal is to reach an agreement that benefits all of our talented staff as well as ensures the sustained health of the museum.”
In addition, the website links to articles and social media pages that discuss past and present controversies at the museum, including concerns raised by Chaédria LaBouvier, the first Black person to curate an exhibition at the museum. (In 1996, Okwui Enwezor became the first Black person to co-curate an exhibition at the Guggenheim.)
LaBouvier, who curated the 2019 exhibition Basquiat’s “Defacement”: The Untold Story, described her experience working with the museum as “the most racist professional experience of my life.” The curator accused the museum’s artistic director and chief curator Nancy Spector of “trying to co-opt” her work and said she faced threats of retaliation after speaking up.
“The experience of LaBouvier in conjunction with that of the workers from facilities, art-handling and construction departments show that racial discrimination runs through every facet of the Guggenheim’s operation,” AFW said.
The website also calls on the public to write directly to Guggenheim board members and offers downloadable poster templates that address the Guggenheim Foundation.
The parody comes amid ongoing, often strained, contract negotiations between the Guggenheim Union and the museum’s management. Formed in June of 2019, the union represents about 140 installers and maintenance workers at the museum. Back in April, the museum furloughed 92 of its employees, citing a revenue shortfall of $10 million. The announcement followed a dispute between the union and the museum’s management over payments for on-call workers during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“While these structural issues that burden workers at cultural institutions are not new, we are in a moment of absolute precarity where workers across all sectors need access to healthcare and stability in labor conditions,” AFW said in a statement to Hyperallergic. “Museums and cultural institutions talk about diversity and inclusion ad nauseam but rarely accompany their rhetoric with material improvements to the conditions of BIPOC, women and other underrepresented workers.”
The group says that it will deactivate the website and cease its further campaign actions against the Guggenheim “only when the museum agrees to meet the demands of their unionized workers.”
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