Gulf Labor Stages Protest at Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Gulf Labor organized the protest in their official capacity as Venice Biennale artists.

Gulf Labor protesters outside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Photo: luciapizzani, via Instagram.

This morning, Instagram and Twitter feeds broadcasting the glamorous opening days of the Venice Biennale to the world were suddenly filled with something else: images from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (PGC) of activists bearing banners demanding that the growing Guggenheim empire “Meet Workers’ Demands.”

The activist group Gulf Labor is, in fact, an official participant in the 2015 show, having drawn widespread attention for spectacular protests of the Guggenheim in New York (see Demonstrators at Guggenheim Protest Labor Abuse in Abu Dhabi). According to press materials, its participation in Venice was meant to focus on “a public report in a series of plenary sessions dedicated to its investigations of labor conditions in the Persian Gulf and South Asia.” This morning, however, took their participation to the streets—or, rather, canals—with some 40 activists staging a protest outside the PGC, according to Hyperallergic.

Gulf Labor protesters outside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.  Photo: esperaste, via Instagram.

Gulf Labor protesters outside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
Photo: esperaste, via Instagram.

The protesters arrived by boat at the PGC’s dock landing at 10:20 a.m., and brought together not just Gulf Labor, but others, including local group Sale Docks and Milan’s Macao, an independent art space involved in the organization of art workers.

As the Guggenheim, Louvre Abu Dhabi, and other international cultural organizations set up shop in the UAE, concerns have been growing over the treatment of migrant workers building their flashy new international outposts at Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates (see What’s Really Going On at Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island?).

In response to the protest, the PGC was temporarily closed, locking its gates and turning away visitors. Reportedly, officials from the Guggenheim have agreed to meet with the protesters.

See also Ukrainian Activists Occupy Russia’s Venice Biennale Pavilion.

UPDATE: artnet News has received the followings statement from the Guggenheim’s director of media and public relations.

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.

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