Artists Curators Boycott Guggenheim’s Human Rights Violations


In a public letter dated Mar. 17 to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 130 artists, curators, writers and other art professionals have announced they will boycott Guggenheim Abu Dhabi in response to the institution’s failure to secure basic rights for workers constructing its museum branch on Saadiyat Island. Some artists have also vowed to boycott other Guggenheim branches globally.

Among the signatories are artists Janet Cardiff, Hans Haacke, Thomas Hirschhorn, Barbara Kruger, Tania Bruguera, Yto Barrada, Monica Bonvincini, Harun Farocki, Andrea Fraser, Mona Hatoum, Afredo Jaar, Shirin Neshat, Krzysztof Wodiczko and Walid Raad; art historians and curators include Ute Meta Bauer, T.J. Demos, Carin Kuoni and Molly Nesbit.

The letter states, in part: “In two extensive reports on the UAE, Human Rights Watch has documented a cycle of abuse that leaves migrant workers deeply indebted, poorly paid, and unable to defend their rights or even quit their jobs. The UAE authorities responsible for developing the island have failed to tackle the root causes of abuse: unlawful recruiting fees, broken promises of wages, and a sponsorship system that gives employers virtually unlimited power over workers.”

“Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers,” says Raad in a press statement. “Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.”

The Louvre Abu Dhabi and a New York University liberal arts campus are also in development at the same site. Human Rights Watch directed similar criticism at the Louvre in 2007.

Art in America reported in January 2008 that Human Rights Watch had taken the Guggenheim to task over its refusal to discuss the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East. The organization requested that the Guggenheim “require that its UAE partners not withhold workers’ wages, not confiscate passports, document and publicly report work-related injuries and deaths, and forbid recruiters from unlawfully collecting recruiting, travel and visa fees from workers.”

Designed by Frank Gehry, the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim, at over 320,000 square feet, will be the largest Guggenheim facility worldwide. The $27-billion project is scheduled for completion in 2015.