Occupy Museums is an ongoing protest that calls out economic injustice in institutions of art and culture


Occupy Museums joins Gulf Labor, MTL, students from NYU, and others to creat the Global Ultra Luxury Faction. First action at Guggenheim against Migrant Labor Debt Bondage constructing new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi

(above image-manifesto briefly on Guggenheim’s wall/photo: Hrag Vartanian)

Each time the Guggenheim speaks, its approach to migrant labour issues on Saadiyat Island sounds more like that of a global corporation than that of an educational or art institution. We would like to remind the Guggenheim that it’s a museum, with a mission to “explore ideas across cultures through dynamic curatorial and educational initiatives.” Museums should help the public come to a greater understanding of the global complexities we all face.

Each day the Guggenheim hides behind the excuse that “construction has not yet started on our building” is another day of evading decisions and actions which could prevent a future migrant worker’s servitude. Right now, the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi’s infrastructure is being constructed. That infrastructure includes roads, sewage, water, electric, net pipes, etc., leading to the museum. But other components of the work are also under way. We can only assume that money has been transferred to the Guggenheim here in New York in order to hire the curators and administrators of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. We know that events off-site have already been organized. Works of art have certainly been bought, insured, and stored. Last but not least, Saadiyat Island is being sold to investors on the basis of the Guggenheim’s name, along with those of the Louvre, the British Museum and others. How can the Guggenheim claim that construction has not begun?

Even if we were to take at face value the claim that construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi has not begun, we would say the following: NOW thousands of workers who will build your museum are taking on the massive debt that will take them years to repay; NOW workers are being recruited with promises that will not be fulfilled, for jobs that will pay less than they expected; NOW workers are applying for the passports that may be confiscated as soon as they land in the UAE; and, surely, NOW is the time to do something about all of this.

It is unfortunate but not surprising that the Guggenheim refuses to open its doors to a serious public dialogue about the migrant labor issues in Abu Dhabi. A museum of its stature must foster public education about the conditions under which art is viewed. The Guggenheim is stepping back from this social responsibility as it focuses on expanding into new global markets.

As for the underpaid Guggenheim guards’ wages in New York, passing off culpability to a subcontractor is no longer an acceptable practice, even in the corporate world. The Guggenheim should pay all employees at least a living wage, even if they are on a contractor’s payroll.

Sadly, the Guggenheim’s latest response confirms our expectation. It has tried to hide behind technicalities and PR spin as it waits for news cycles to die down. We know the composition of their board and it does not surprise us. A 1% Global Museum with a 1% Board that cares very little about its lowest-paid employees and the example it is setting to the world.

We will be back.

G.U.L.F.(Global Ultra Luxury Faction)

full video with subtitles:



Monday, February 24th

On Saturday, the G.U.L.F (Global Ultra Luxury Faction) staged a protest at the Guggenheim Museum in support of the rights of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi.

Earlier today, the Guggenheim director, Richard Armstrong issued a statement pointing out that construction has not begun on the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. In reality, however, construction on the Saadiyat Island infrastructure has been underway for several years (link to: http://www.saadiyat.ae/en/project-update/infrastructure.html), and the Guggenheim is central to the island’s overall development plan, along with the Louvre and NYU. Moreover, the Guggenheim brand is being used to promote the exclusive, ultra-luxury ambience of the island’s appeal to potential investors and tourists.

An in-depth discussion on Saadiyat Island is  scheduled for Wednesday, February 26, 5:15pm EDT, at NYU’s Global Center for Academic & Spiritual Life (GCASL), which is located at 238 Thompson Street, Room 369, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Art is not a Luxury Asset for the Wealthiest Global Citizens.

In the course of the Saturday protest, we were outraged to learn about the inadequate pay of the museum’s security guards. As part of their efforts to keep us and the priceless art on display safe, they are paid a mere ten dollars an hour by one of the wealthiest institutions in New York and indeed globally.. In New York City, this is not a living wage, by any estimates. The Guggenheim can and should be paying them more. As the wealth gap widens and the global 1% literally builds exclusive luxury islands, the fates of those left out are bound together. They include both Guggenheim’s NYC museum guards and migrant workers who are constructing the museums on Saadiyat Island.

Museums Should Not be Built on the Backs of Ill-Treated Workers.

We call on the Guggenheim Museum to open its doors to a free public assembly on these issues on Saturday March 1. We look forward to the conversation.

Museums Should Be Raising Labor Standards, Not Lowering Them.

In Solidarity



(global ultra luxury faction)

early coverage: http://hyperallergic.com/110856/protest-action-erupts-inside-guggenheim-museum/



manifesto for the action, hung on the wall besides curatorial text of Italian Futurism:

photo: Nick Pinto

manifesto being ripped off wall and taken into Guggenheim’s collection

photo: Nick Pinto


Join us on Friday as we celebrate our contribution to the latest issue of Portuguese magazine Cine Qua Non with a special cover project:

“Frames Matter: Occupy Your Museums”

We will be giving out Debtfair materials and exchanging art for debt.




Open Letter to the Deans of Art Programs on the Occasion of the “Fix” of Student Loan Interest Rates

Dear Dean,

The educational product you currently offer is misleading, and it’s having a toxic effect on our culture in the form of debt.

Your university’s degrees feed on artists’ aspirations and promise a return of professional advancements such as high-end sales, prestigious galleries and academic careers. Yet these opportunities rest in increasingly fewer hands, and the mechanisms of privilege are ignored. The 99% of us either balk at the financial risk of pursuing higher art education, or will spend our entire lives struggling to pay off our loans. We are forced to push our art practice aside to work long hours at unsatisfying jobs that enable us to keep pace with climbing interest payments. This system resembles indentured servitude where the few capitalize on the labor of the many. But models do exist where the value of culture is shared.

Occupy Museums has launched DebtFair, a series of experimental market-actions to address the debt crisis in the arts. DebtFair encourages solidarity rather than competition among artists. It asks participating artists to be transparent about their debt and economic reality, and asks collectors to help sustain culture rather than use it as a tool for speculation. We need models like DebtFair to heal the untenable situation caused by your institutions.

Why are we, as cultural producers, encouraged to contribute to a luxury market for the few at the expense of the many? How could our nation spend more money per year on prisons than on education?  What kind of culture are we building for the future?

These are not abstract questions. Tomorrow, Congress will attempt a “fix” to prevent a doubling of student loan interest rates. While students are praying that their rates remain at 3.4%, big banks continue to borrow from our government at 0.75%. The toxic equation of a doubling of interest rates will allow them to steal $37 billion annually from students. But even if the doubling is prevented, the status quo is a crisis for artists and for art education.

We are reaching out to you as a potential ally. You, as [TITLE] of [SCHOOL] are inseparable from this crisis and can be instrumental to its resolution. Ignoring this problem is no longer an option. We invite you to support realistic alternatives. We are calling on you to:

1.  Begin a process of transparency in your art institution: educate your students about the realities of debt, and disclose the relationships between your board members and predatory lenders.

2. Encourage your president and board to freeze tuition rates.

3. Lend your support to DebtFair (www.debtfair.org) which aims to bail your students out of debt and attend the meetup and discussion at Abrons Art Center in New York in early August.  You will be receiving an additional invitation about this event. Your presence will help to initiate a mutual aid movement to bail artists out of debt.

Enough is enough. We need a cultural bailout in the face of a student debt crisis.


Occupy Museums



As New York City and the art world 1% gear up for the Frieze Art Fair opening Thursday, two solo shows for Jeff Koons, a favorite if the 1%, opening Friday, followed by the Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillip’s auctions just a few days later, many are expecting well over a billion dollars to be exchanged for contemporary art works.

Despite the booming art market these events headline, this economic prosperity is limited to a miniscule minority of artists and arts professionals. This further contributes to the staggering economic inequality dividing Wall St. and Main St. In response, Occupy Museums and new friends are developing DebtFair, which will take place throughout New York City this September. DebtFair models a sustainable cultural bailout rooted in economic reality rather than luxury escapism. Collectors will buy art by writing checks directly to artists’ loaning banks, a mutual aid relief of impossible debt burdens.

DebtFair is a series of experimental market-actions to address the massive debt crisis in art today. Decentralized, on- and off-line, crossing institutional hierarchies in both public and private spaces, artists contextualize their work within the narratives of their actual economic lives. Collectors receive artwork in exchange for checks directly to the artist’s loaning banks.

In DebtFair, Art = Liberation.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                   Contact: Michael McKeon

April 16, 2013                                                                                                  (212) 681-1380


Elected officials will join members of Teamsters Joint Council 16, IATSE Local 829, IATSE Local 1 and District Council 9 of Painters, at a press conference on the steps of City Hall Wednesday at 1:00 PM to confront the organizers of the Frieze New York Art show and their local events coordinator, Production Glue, LLC on their continuing discrimination against hiring New York City’s union workers.

Labor leaders contend that Frieze NY and Production Glue refuse to hire professional exhibition workers and hire workers from as far away as Wisconsin to avoid paying a fair wage. Art world enthusiasts speculate that London based Frieze will become a permanent yearly fixture at Randall’s Island. Production Glue also ran the event in 2012 and refused to employ union workers to construct the fairgrounds and facilitate the event.

These unions will demand that Frieze Art Fair end its practice of freezing out New York workers, and engage good, local, union employers effective immediately. They will also call upon the New York City Parks Department to pursue a new permitting process that evaluates labor standards for these major private events that make major profits while displacing families from enjoying local parks. 

Frieze New York, which will run on Randall’s Island May 10-13, 2013, is an international contemporary art fair and will feature works from more than 1,000 artists from around the world.

On Wednesday, April 17, 2013, Teamsters Joint Council 16 President George Miranda, NYC Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez, Councilmember Jessica Lappin, Exhibition Employees Union Local 829 President Kenny Kerrigan, IATSE and members of several local unions will speak out on this lack of support and call for Frieze New York’s sponsors to acknowledge the rights of New York City’s union workers. 

 When:  Wednesday, April 17, 2013

1:00 P.M.

Where: Steps of City Hall, City Hall Park

Broadway, New York, NY 10007

Who: Labor Leaders and Elected Officials





1. Seeing the Frame         


We are bound by many invisible frames. These frames offer reference and moral validation for what might otherwise be absurd.They change how and what we see. If we don’t challenge them or have encounters open our world, we can find our lives grossly limited by them. Western culture finds itself contained within such a frame; a shiny LCD and stainless steel construction to which we can attach words like “corporate” and “free-market.” A few years ago, mass outrage directed at financial institutions erupted internationally, but a consciousness is growing that our system of inequality and greed is deeply ingrained. It has seeped out in all directions from medicine to the natural environment to art museums. We live in a culture of inequality. From this initial realization, the following line of questions concerning cultural institutions may be helpful:

1      What authority do cultural gatekeepers claim? Where does this power come from? Is there such a thing as bad art?

2      Follow the symbols: What words/fonts/images do they use to describe themselves? What colors are the walls? What shapes are the walls? (What ethics are inherent within their mission statement, outreach and publicized texts?)

3      Follow the money: Who gives money? To whom is the money given?Why? Do they have debt? How does debt affect art?

4      What art is in fashion today? Who owns it? Who donates their art collections? Whose names are celebrated in museums and chiseled on the walls?

5      Follow the clout: Who gives orders? Who takes orders? Who sets priorities? What form of government do these power relations represent?

6      Be specific: broad trends need to be identified, but picking specific symbolic instances on which to focus makes communication easier at times and helps draw attention to the cause.


MAPPING: Draw connections between public and private culture donors (like Deutsche Bank, whose logo frames the images we use here, or the Koch brothers), follow the money, and what they get in return for supporting cultural institutions. Why do they support the arts? See, for example, http://www.littlesis.org.


2. Stepping Outside of the Frame   


Consciousness is the first step, but at some point we’ve got to leave the cocoons of our desks and step out into the public realm. This takes a certain amount of bravery and suspension of disbelief, because we have been taught not to raise our voices. But political transformation occurs in the body; we de-condition ourselves to act for truth rather than simply to fit in. What’s needed here is an understanding that there is no such thing as failure, because art, culture, and even identities are constant experiments. We can step outside the frame, begin to open up our worlds, and evolve a nuanced and effective culture of change. Here are some points about the moment of stepping outside the frame, and engaging in self-experimentation.

1      Be naive (everything IS possible).

2      Perform. (Recontextualize the frame through physical actions that involve risk-taking.) Make the institution uncomfortable – make it respond.

3      “This is not art.” Reposition your values to counter an institution’s hegemonic stance. Actions can be “artful” if that will make them palatable to the audiences you intend to address. Do not limit yourselves to actions that might be “art historically significant” because art history has been conquered by 1% interests. What matters most is whether your actions are effective. Define your own success.

4      Think strategically: your goal is to get a specific message across. Work to ensure your action communicates what you intend. Envision every possibility from all angles. Hand out written materials.

5      Refine an opposing theory to the conventional institutional frame and talk about it openly.

6      Start a controversy.


Liberate Tate has done some exceptional symbolic and “artful” political actions, especially concerning the Tate Modern’s relationship with BP. Occupy Museums instigated large assemblies inside New York’s MoMA, as well as more symbolic actions at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.

3. Family Frame


Once outside the frame, you’ll need the support of a community who can work together to build a stable foundation for experiments. Identify yourself publicly and it will be easier to find your family — like-minded people tend to emerge once you have taken the first steps. Connections and sympathies may already exist under the surface, but once assembled as a family, you’ll need to build some frames that nurture trust and prevent you from falling into the forms of social hierarchy we are used to. Effective social action occurs through multiple avenues originating from different directions. Your group process should embody your vision for social change. Reach consensus while respecting the autonomy of each member. This horizontal (non hierarchical) process can accommodate different views and nurture the unique skills of each member. Perpetually reassess yourselves and your process. Stay open and invite new people to join meetings and actions. Here are some ideas for working as a group:

1      Be open to self reflection about power and privilege.

2      Talk to other collectives about the strengths and weaknesses of their process.

3      Make sure to meet in person regularly. There’s nothing like face to face.

4      Practice respectful language and communications — especially on email.


Since internal process can embody a vision for social change, consider the working conditions and internal process of the institutions you hope to impact. At the Berlin Biennial in 2012 we helped initiate a conversation on horizontality that challenged conventional power structures and resulted in raised wages for guards.

4. Hacking the Frame  


In the 1960’s there was a famous debate about whether to work for change inside or outside of the system. Today, such distinctions are blurry as the corporate sphere has permeated even private social life. It has become easier to interact with the frame than ever before. It’s now simple to create your own media or hack the aesthetics of the institution you would like to criticize. Also, when interacting with any institution, such as an art museum, never forget that they are made up of individuals. Some of these people may be allies, which leads to possibilities and new tactics to gain leverage. Sometimes this opens the door for public negotiations with institutions, or can help with creating an action that will tack onto existing media coverage. The point is to open up the frame by hacking into its own logic. Here are some ideas about hacking the frame:


1      Do actions to instigate conversation. Make demands. design fake press releases if you have to (seewww.theyesmen.org),, that announce the changes you hope to see. This can force a response.

2      Negotiate: always ask for more. “No” is often more instructive and useful than “yes.”

3      Keep records of your negotiations and use them.

4      Ask to see the full budget. Ask what they’re doing to help confront the extreme imbalances created by capitalism.

5      Make allies of journalists, bloggers, and writers: Make sure they are aware of your actions and invite them to participate. Send press releases.


In 2011 we collaborated on an action to donate a work of art, a replica of a foreclosed home in Harlem, to the Museum of American Finance in New York. This work clearly evoked the story of the 99%, especially the foreclosure crisis as it pertained to the history of American finance.  After the museum initially refused our donation, which was offered in the context of a protest, we replied with a respectful letter writing campaign, eventually convincing them to change gears and acquire the work.

5. De-Framing    


We begin to dismantle the existing frames and structures that limit us and replace them with alternatives. In the process we spread consciousness about inequality and  inspire others, and gradually the larger culture may begin to shift. But we easily fall into hierarchy and scandal. We therefore need to be persistent in experiments with alternatives that better reflect our values. As we envision and invent cultures we never thought possible we should pay close attention to our own behavior and relationships within our community because it sustains this work. Continual awareness and flexibility in our strategies and attention to ethics are necessary in order to develop multiple lines of sight when considering alternative possibilities. It’s helpful to remember that change works in cycles, and to relax the mind and take care of the body. Here are some ideas about de-framing in the long term:

1      Set flexible goals.

2      Replace the current system piece by piece with alternatives.

3      Be vigilant against re-creating hierarchies.

4      Consider alternative currencies, exchanges, and valuations of culture.


Meditate. Throw parties.  In 2012 we launched an alternative exchange experiment outside major contemporary art fairs in New York City to call attention to the corrupt art market these glitzy fairs were shielding. We called it the Fair Art Fair (Free Art for Fair Exchange) and invited every artist in New York to participate.


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