Today, at around noon, a group of activists from the Gulf Labor Artist Coalition entered the Guggenheim’s atrium with a maroon fabric sign that read “Meet Workers’ Demands Now!” and proceeded to stage a protest. Their protest was in honor of May Day, a day also known as International Worker’s Day dedicated to protesting unfair labor conditions. The New York Times later explained that their cause was the controversial working conditions at the Guggenheim’s Frank Gehry–designed Abu Dhabi site. (This has previously led to another protest at the Guggenheim, held in May of last year, as well as several other protests.) Leaflets written in the sans-serif font used for On Kawara’s date paintings were also dropped into the atrium.
According to Mostafa Heddaya at Artinfo, the protesters began chanting, and the live readings of Kawara’s One Million Years continued on anyway. Over the next hour, the protests continued, the museum closed its doors to the public, long lines formed on East 88th Street, and the Guerrilla Girls showed up.
— Neysa Page-Lieberman (@neysapl) May 1, 2015
The protestors demanded to meet with museum officials, and it is unclear whether they ever did. About an hour and a half after the protest began, it quieted down, but another hour after that, at around 2:30 p.m., the museum closed for the day.
In an email, the Guggenheim press office told ARTnews that a statement will be made today.
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Update, 5/1/15, 7:29 p.m.: The Guggenheim’s full statement follows below.
We are disappointed that the actions of today’s demonstrators forced the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to close its doors and turn away thousands of members of the public.
We have met with representatives of the group behind today’s demonstration on several occasions and have tried to maintain open lines of communication. We share their concerns about worker welfare in the Gulf Region, but these kinds of disruptive activities run counter to our objective of building the cooperation and goodwill necessary to further change on an extremely complex geopolitical issue.
Despite erroneous reports to the contrary, construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not yet begun and a contractor has not yet been selected. In preparation for these milestones, the Guggenheim has been working with our partner, the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC), and other authorities and stakeholders inside and outside of the UAE to continue to advance progress on conditions for workers.
The Guggenheim seeks, as we have from the start, to advance meaningful and verifiable actions. This is evidenced by our continuing contributions to the TDIC Employment Practices Policy (EPP). Significant and documented progress has been made on a number of fronts, including worker accommodation, access to medical coverage, grievance procedures, and retention of passports.
We believe the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi project presents an opportunity for a dynamic cultural exchange and to chart a more inclusive and expansive view of art history. These efforts at real action will take time to become a reality on the ground. We understand that this endeavor comes with great responsibility and we believe strongly in the transformative potential of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.