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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, Abu Dhabi - Guggenheim faces 130 Artists protest

March 18 2011

A group of more than 130 artists, including many prominent figures in the Middle Eastern art world, says it will boycott the $800 million Guggenheim Museum being built in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, unless conditions for the foreign laborers at the site are improved.

The new Guggenheim, designed by Frank Gehry, is one of the highest-profile construction projects in the Middle East. It is to be the centerpiece of a sprawling development called Saadiyat Island that includes a half-billion-dollar branch of the Louvre Museum designed by Jean Nouvel, a national museum designed by Norman Foster
The first concerns over labor conditions at Saadiyat Island were raised in a report by Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group, in 2009.

“Artists should not be asked to exhibit their work in buildings built on the backs of exploited workers,” Walid Raad, a Lebanese-born New York artist who is one of the boycott’s organizers, said in a statement. “Those working with bricks and mortar deserve the same kind of respect as those working with cameras and brushes.”

A large part of the museum is intended to focus on contemporary Middle Eastern art, and if well-known artists refuse to be involved, it could open with an embarrassingly thin Middle Eastern collection.