The Guggenheim Refuses to Answer Questions About Gulf Workers

A rendering of the Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi. The museum was scheduled to open in 2017. Courtesy openbuildings.com
A rendering of the Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi. The museum was scheduled to open in 2017. Courtesy openbuildings.com

Despite repeated criticism over the working conditions of laborers building the Guggenheim’s Frank Ghery-designed Abu Dhabi branch, the institution is unwilling to engage with the issue. According to the Financial Times, director Richard Armstrong staunchly refused to answer questions on the topic at Sunday’s press viewing of “Seeing through the Light: Selections from the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Collection” (see “What’s in the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim’s Collection?”).

The Guggenheim regularly incurs the ire of human rights activists (see “Guggenheim Protesters Make It Rain in Frank Lloyd Wright Rotunda,” “Guggenheim Museum’s Façade Occupied by Protesters’ Projection,” and “Protest at New York’s Guggenheim Calls Attention to Labor Conditions at UAE Expansion“).

The Gulf States, which rely heavily on foreign workers, have often come under fire for the human cost of their ambitious cultural and sports programs. Migrant workers are attracted by the promise of high wages, but they are often forced to pay substantial fees to dishonest recruitment agencies to secure jobs, which means that they can end up earning less abroad than they would if they had stayed in their home countries.

The pressure group Gulf Labor said the workers employed by the Tourism Development & Investment Company (TIDC), which is building the museum, earn an average $177 – $254 a month. Overtime hours may boost workers’ income to $300 – $320 a month.

The group has dismissed TIDC’s efforts to implement changes as “indifferent.” The group called on TIDC to raise wages, award workers a one-off grant of $2,000 to help them pay back their recruitment debts, and allow workers to form trade unions.


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