The Global Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F) was at it again this past weekend; the organization carried out a massive protest at Manhattan’s Guggenheim Museum, the second in two months. At 6:45pm on Saturday evening, a bell rang and 9,000 “1%” bills of fake currency subsequently fell down from the upper tiers of the museum, passing by the stunned guests who were peering out from the edges of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic spiral ramp. As Mostafa Heddaya for Hyperallergic explains, “the only sound that could be heard after the bills were released was the collective gasp of the hundreds of patrons who packed the museum, where lines for entry wrapped around the block.”
G.U.L.F., a subset of Gulf Labor, is a coalition of international artists working to ensure that migrant worker rights are protected during the construction and maintenance of museums on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, UAE, according to its website. The recent protests at the Guggenheim Museum were designed to raise awareness about the exploitation of migrant workers, and how the future of art and art museums appears only to cater to “The 1%.” Since 2011, G.U.L.F. has worked with the Human Rights Watch to police the oppressive practices and alleged use of “slave labor” by organizations such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
Andrew Ross, a New York University professor and member of G.U.L.F., expresses the guiding concern of the group in a recent Op-Ed in The New York Times. He writes, “If liberal cultural and education institutions are to operate with any integrity in that environment, they must insist on a change of the rules: abolish the recruitment debt system, pay a living wage, allow workers to change employers at will and legalize the right to collective bargaining. Otherwise, their gulf paymasters will go on cherry-picking from the globalization menu – Lamborghinis, credit default swaps, liberal arts degrees, blockbuster exhibitions – while spurning the social contract that protects basic human rights.” G.U.L.F.’s second Guggenheim Museum protest came just after the Op-Ed was published.
It’s G.U.L.F’s mission to address the fact that “art built on oppression loses meaning,” and how a society that values contemporary cultural institutions built by exploited workers is void of ethics. It is important to be critical of the practices of leading arts institutions; what does it say when the oppressed workers who built a museum don’t even have access to it?
For more information about G.U.L.F. and the Guggenheim Museum protests, you can read Hyperallergic’s full coverage of the breaking story.