The Guggenheim's Abu Dhabi museum isn't going up without a fight. On Tuesday evening, members of the protest group Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) unfurled their latest denouncement of labor conditions on Saadiyat Island, the ritzy enclave where the Frank Gehry-designed branch is slated to rise. This time, the protest mechanism was a 40-foot banner that was reportedly snuck in via a baby stroller. Reading "Stop Labor Abuse" and "Countdown to Guggenheim Abu Dhabi," it hung briefly down the museum's famed conical core before two male guards tore it away.
For months, G.U.L.F. members have pulled off "a series of unsanctioned displays," as The New York Times puts it, inside the museum. Amidst inundating the museum with leaflets and sneaking in provocative paintings, the group has managed to meet with museum representatives, including Guggenheim director Richard Armstrong, to discuss their concerns.
"We've heard nothing since," one activist, NYU professor Andrew Ross, told The Times today. Enter the banner, an example of “what we do when we don’t get a response," Ross continued. "We step up pressure.”
The angular island museum is set to come up alongside an Abu Dhabi branch of the Louvre museum and the newly finished NYU campus outpost. Construction in Abu Dhabi -- in line with the country's neighbors -- relies on migrant workers who face routine exploitation, memorably brought to light in a damning 2009 Human Rights Watch report.
While some observers question how much leverage the Guggenheim can wield in terms of protecting laborers, protestors insist the museum must at least agitate. In a missive published by Hyperallergic today, activist Walid Raad lists a variety of approaches the Guggenheim could take, from pressuring the UAE Ministry of Labor to enforce preexisting laws, to insisting on the release of potentially revelatory reports on the current state of workers.