7:30-9 PM May 5, 2017

Whitney Museum of American Art, 5th floor

Please join us for this autonomous event





What does commencement mean for artists in the billionaire feeding frenzy of the Trump era? Commencement symbolizes the entry of studied, curious individuals into a world that they have been prepared to influence and impact. But what is this world into which graduates are entering today, and what impact can they have amid a reactionary crackdown on art and cultural difference, saddled with backbreaking amounts of debt? These are the questions that tens of thousands of new art school graduates and hundreds of thousands of American artists are asking this spring. We cannot accept what appears to be offered: A mass competition for the few available court painter positions as democracy unravels and less privileged citizens come under threat.

This is a painful moment. We are caught between the clubs of budding Fascism and the nearly inescapable glass grip of Financialization. For most artists, echoing much of the US workforce, the price of entry into the Art World is massive debt. That means an intimate and legally disempowered relationship with financial corporations like JP Morgan Chase, Banco Popular, and Navient Corporation that work against their borrowers while enriching the 1%.

In this moment, as this system reaches a fever pitch, we propose a Counter-Commencement Debtors Ceremony at the Whitney Museum. A community of artists usually invisible to the museum will step out of the shadows and attempt to claim their place in and democratize the museum. This is an unsanctioned action related to a platform called Debtfair, which is currently installed in the museum.

The economic contrasts stemming from class division among artists in the US will be on full display on May 5. May 5 is the first day of Frieze Art Fair: the pop-up luxury enclave on Randall’s Island that is Bloomberg’s vision for New York come-to-life as a million dollar minute of the city’s cultural clock. The work in Frieze is supposed to be valuable. We say that this value is predicated on the majority of art being framed as surplus.

Debt manifestos at the Counter-Commencement Ceremony will include representatives of students currently on strike in Puerto Rico, artists caught in debt spirals promoted by Chase Bank and Navient Corporation, and a manifesto from the 2018 class of Columbia University––one of the schools most heavily represented among artists of the Biennial and a pipeline into the Art World. The current cost of obtaining an MFA at Columbia University is nearly $60,000 per year for tuition alone.

Occupy Museums has asked nearly 9,000 visitors to the Whitney Museum: Are there conditions under which you would support a debt strike to demand better deals from the banks?

Less than 10% have said “no”.

Resistance against Trump depends on a Debt Justice Movement.  

Since 2008, the upward mobility of the middle classes, known as the American Dream, has fallen into rubble. But it was already known that the Dream never was close to a universal reality because the slave economy that built this nation did not care about the dreams and financialized the lives of many Americans, and not much has changed today. Today, neoliberalism, slavery’s economic heir, continues the logic of extraction. Union jobs were retooled as precarious work, funneling profits directly into Silicon Valley and Wall Street. This is the world into which students are graduating in 2017.

But now the hour seems almost too late to call out neoliberalism. Recently, we’ve seen a political turn toward hyper capitalistic nationalism that has found an even more cynical use for the American Dream: It is wielded as rhetorical entitlement deserved only by white Americans, an entitlement that can be disbursed only when large populations who are not white are variously forgotten, targeted, ejected, killed. The American Dream today is a wedge used to divide, confuse, and enrage people, obscuring a quiet counter-revolution that is taking shape as a takeover of all levers of power by billionaires. Their usurpation of power depends on the withering away of democratic institutions such as schools and libraries. The Art World is a comfort zone for many of these billionaires. This is the counter-revolution of the Collector Class.

 The Collector Class seeks the wholescale annexation of our space and time. They are remaking neighborhoods into branded real estate-culture packages. The high-tech debt-based economy converts people’s time into fixed-income assets. All of this becomes capital whose form can only flow up to the top of the pyramid. In this equation, art that does not perform the function of luxury asset gets weeded out. Yet artists and institutions are beginning to resist.

In 2017, we do not accept the commencement in which educational aspiration is nothing more than bait. We do not accept the normalization of:

·      More than a trillion dollars of student debt––a sum that now largely powers the US economy and a sum that is harvested through banks, hedge funds, and asset managers such as Blackrock, Inc.––a largely unknown firm larger than the World bank––to become dynastic wealth for billionaires extracted from the future time of a new generation.

·      An era of renewed deregulation, wherein many have been and will continue to be led into debt spirals and potential lifelong financial disempowerment by “reputable” corporations, like Navient Corporation, who are securitized by taxpayer money.

·      A re-colonization of territories through economic means as seen in cuts to universities in Puerto Rico as a result of the austerity measures in the Promesa Bill.

Because the 2017 Commencement marks this widening of the class and race gap as the Collector Class counter-revolution proceeds, we must redefine commencement this year. Let it be the commencement of long-term struggle against the extraction instruments of the Collector Class.

On the table are: Debt strikes, a reformulation of institutions …to be given voice at the museum on May 5th. 

We define the Class of 2017 in this way:

Class War began long Ago

We are losing—badly

Time to Re-Commence the Struggle.

Occupy Museums





As part of the Debtfair project we have selected 30 artists who share common economic conditions who will have their work installed in the museum. All 500 + artists who participated in the Debtfair Open Call will have their work digitally displayed as part of the installation which opens March 17th 2017. 

Artists Directly Affected by Puerto Rican Debt Crisis  (First Bank of Puerto Rico and Banco Popular)

Gamaliel Rodriguez

Melquiades Rosario

Nibia Pastrana Santiago

Sofia Maldonado

Celestino Ortiz

Jose Soto

Gabriella Torres-Ferrer

Adrian Roman

Yasmin Hernandez

Norma Vila

Artists in Debt to Navient Corporation

Felicia D. Megginson

Hector Serna

Miles Conrad

Sierra Ortega

Joe Bun Keo

Rebecca Kuzemchak

Renee Valenti

Tariku Shiferaw

Keil Borrman

Hot Hands

Artists in Debt to J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

Nova Silbaugh

Andrew Lattner


Felicia Glidden


Jason Christopher Childers

Stephan Apicella-Hitchcock

Lisa Sigal

Lina Dib

Maura Falfan



February 17, 2017

It has come to our attention that a Trump economic advisor sits on the board of the Museum of Modern Art. The name of this advisor is Larry Fink. He is the co-founder and CEO of Blackrock Inc, the largest financial company in the world.  Blackrock barely existed before 2008. Today it manages 5.1 trillion dollars of assets.  If you hold any kind of debt to any bank, chances are that its traded by Blackrock. The firm is deeply invested in Americans—and especially students to remain in permanent debt. Fink is also on the board of NYU.

Fink is not in Bannon’s camp.  He’s a liberal. He was talked about as a potential Clinton treasury secretary. But now he’s on Trump’s team. And because Trump is waging a war of hate and lies against Muslims, Immigrants, women, LGBTQ, disabled, and the planet itself, one cannot reasonably advise or do any kind of business with this regime. To advise this regime is to normalize White Supremacy.

There is a long history of activism at MoMA. In fact, tonight’s free museum entrance was brought to you by the Art Worker’s coalition protests decades ago.  So in this tradition, we are calling for MoMA to change its behavior.

No More Normalizing Trump.

We are calling for Larry Fink to be kicked off the board as a sign to your public that you care for our values of human dignity.


Why are you normalizing this regime by having a Trump advisor on your board?

Larry Fink of Blackrock Inc!

MoMA, time to Dump Trump!

Fink off the Board!



Happening Media:


 (on J20 the museum will be pay as you wish)

We ask:
  1. What is the role and responsibility of artists and other cultural practitioners within a nation turning toward Fascism?
  2. Where is the agency of cultural institutions who depend on philanthropy under an illiberal system that rewards the 1% lavishly.
  3. How can cultural institutions oppose the state to support and protect their workers and artists who are citizens under threat?
  4. What specific cultural histories need to be revisited in this political climate to learn from, to revise, to renew, or to newly criticize?
  5. How can cultural institutions begin a process of self-reflection and dialogue in order to assess their complicity in our nation’s arrival at this political moment 
Confirmed speakers include:
Participating Artists and Writers:
Aaron Burr Society
Gina Beavers
Alicia Boyd
Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter (Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Tiona McClodden, and Daniella Rose King)
Chinatown Art Brigade (Betty Yu, Tomie Arai, Liz Moy)
Aruna D’Souza
Jenny Dubnau
Avram Finkelstein
Kim Fraczek
Chitra Ganesh
Mariam Ghani
Vijay Iyer
Paddy Johnson
Baseera Khan
Carin Kuoni
Simone Leigh
Kalup Linzy
Yates Mckee
Naeem Mohaiemen
Tracie Morris
Uche Nduka
Tavia Nyong’o
Laura Raicovich
Mark Read
Martha Rosler
Mira Schor
Dread Scott
Gregory Sholette
Pamela Sneed
Jaret Vadera
Madison Zalopany

With Statements from:
Guerrilla Girls
Zoe Leonard
Coco Fusco

After this event, stay with us for actions, an assembly, and out onto the streets organized by #J20 planners.

5 PM at Foley Square:



Dear Friends,

This year’s Miami Art Fairs opening today should be considered as Trump’s inaugural pre-party. That’s because those who will benefit the most from the coming tax cuts and deregulation of industries from finance to Big Pharma to oil and gas, are in Miami now on an art-asset shopping spree.

On the other hand, when wage regulations are cut and student, mortgage, and credit card debts deregulated, 99% or artists are in for tough times. To be fair, artist’s position is nowhere as bad as the most vulnerable citizens: immigrants who will be terrorized, Muslims demonized, LGBTQ harassed, people of color targeted, women shamed. Down in Miami, the party will continue each year.  

Art Basel Miami’s lead partner is UBS–the Swiss Bank specializing in wealth management for the world’s ultra-high net worth individuals. This year the bank is launching a catalog for its collection: “UBS Debt Collection: To the 1% Its Freedom” We have obtained a copy. We hope you enjoy this important collection.


Occupy Museums


Download the PDF Here






ARTISTS IN DEBT: Open Call to Join Debt-organizing Platform at Whitney Biennial

 Submission Deadline: Thursday, Dec. 9, 2016, 11:59 PM EST

Are you an artist? Are you in debt?

The day after the election, a well-known art collector writes: “Congratulations President-elect Donald Trump. The people have spoken….nothing left to do now but stop bitching and griping and get on with the job.'s not as bad as you think.” That day, the stock market also spoke by closing at an all time high. Business will go on for the wealthy, the top tiers of the art market will continue to boom, but many face dark days ahead. Racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and xenophobia have been normalized while inequity across all communities is sure to widen.

The inequities shared by people in both red and blue states are financial precarity and debt.

Occupy Museums invites artists across the US to unite in Debtfair, a project that will be shown at the Whitney Biennial in March 2017. Debtfair is a means of exposing the hidden layer of debt within the art market and its institutions. The 92 artists currently on hold $5.2 Million of debt. We will expand this community in 2017. All artists who apply through this open call will be featured on a revamped, and their work will be shown digitally in the museum; 30 artists who are indebted to the same institutions will exhibit their physical work.

We believe that the practices of painting, sculpture, performance, video, music, and conceptual practice lie at the core of a progressive democratic society. Yet artists and culture workers face evermore extractive economic burdens parallel to the booming wealth and financialization of the art market. Debt often elicits feelings of shame and alienation. It is a hidden tool of economic, social, and racial division. Yet, by showing how we are interconnected through it, Debtfair mobilizes around the financial relationships that bind us to one another, locating possibilities for solidarity in a global struggle, and leveraging our collective power as debtors.

We ask our fellow artists to complete the following questionnaire to begin the process of joining Debtfair. Sharing data about your debts allow us to paint an accurate picture of art and debt today.  Only images of your artwork and select written answers are shown publicly with ability to edit your public profile at any point. All information is kept in confidence.


We are particularly interested in organizing groups of artists around the following criteria:

  • Artists currently in default (including but not limited to education, mortgage, auto, credit card, medical and personal debts. Institutions may include but not be limited to JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, FedLoan, Sallie Mae, Navient, Fannie Mae, debt collectors etc.)

  • Current and former students of New York University with outstanding debts

  • Puerto Rican Artists and artists of Puerto Rican descent who have been directly affected by austerity measures and/ or with relationship to Banco Popular (and other institutions)

Artists in the exhibition will be notified by the end of December, 2016.

For media restrictions and further guidelines, please see details in the application link.

Venue: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City 

To learn more about Debtfair and view existing profiles, click here.

To learn more about Debtfair’s exhibition at Art League Houston, click here.

For all questions and inquiries, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

Para una traducción en español, escríbanos a This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Occupy Museums in Agitprop! at Brooklyn Museum

Occupy Museums' piece "Eroding Plazas and Accumulating Resistance" is a relief map showing the gentrification process around the Brooklyn Museum. It is meant to be a tool used in an outdoor action. In this piece, Occupy Museums teases out a relationship between ultra luxury global real estate in Manhattan and rapid speculation/displacement in Brooklyn. Both processes are unfolding right around the major museums: the Met and Brooklyn Museum. What role do museums play? 

The piece is a response to the Real Estate Summit Protest at the Brooklyn Museum on November 17th, and we are involved in a coalition that is organizing around this issue and calling on the Museum to no longer support the speculative real estate industry with its space and reputation.

From the Agitptop! curatorial text. "At key moments in history, artists have reached beyond galleries and museums, using their work as a call to action to create political and social change. For the past hundred years, the term agitprop, a combination of agitation and propaganda, has directly reflected the intent of this work.

Agitprop! connects contemporary art devoted to social change with historic moments in creative activism, highlighting activities that seek to motivate broad and diverse publics....These projects highlight struggles for social justice since the turn of the twentieth century, from women’s suffrage and antilynching campaigns to contemporary demands for human rights, environmental advocacy, and protests against war, mass-incarceration, and economic inequality."




Debtfair Houston: How Do the Economic Realities of Capitalism Effect Artistic Practice?

Debtfair is an ongoing artistic campaign to expose the relationship between economic inequality in the art market and artists’ growing debt burdens, exploring the idea that all spaces function with a layer of extraction just below the surface. Occupy Museums and Art League Houston (ALH) invite Texas-based artists to reframe and exhibit their artwork within the first-realization of Debtfair to illustrate the economic realities for Texas artists and their relationships to the cultural economy at large.

Original artwork will be collected through a non-juried open call in which artists will be asked to submit a work of equal relative value to their monthly debt payment. Artworks will be organized in collective groupings (“bundles”) and exhibited inside the walls, between the studs of the main gallery of ALH. Bundles will be grouped based on information collected from an online questionnaire. This collective exhibition format will present artworks in shared rather than individual terms, illustrating the total debts amongst participating artists and identifying the institutions in which these debts are rooted (banks, schools, cultural programs, life expenses, etc.).

Artwork in Debtfair will be for sale, but not in the normal way that art is sold. Bundled artworks will be available for sale with a starting value of the totaled monthly debt payments of included artists. This number will then be given the same interest rates and financial metrics applied to the debts of artists involved increasing bundle price at the same rate of artists’ debts. Any sales will be distributed to artists at their declared value, further profits evenly split and all payments made directly to the artists’ lending institution for a minimum of one month’s debt relief. 

Being in debt often elicits feelings of shame and isolation. If we highlight the hidden layers of artists’ lives, we hope to work together towards economic visualization and structural change. We encourage you to participate and contact us with questions at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



Inauguration of the Fracked Gas Line Museum 

Images of Occupy Museums, Sane Energy, and the Guerrilla Girls inaugurating the new Whitney Museum, which stands on top of a new fracked gas pipeline serving NYC. 

Open Letter co-written with Occupy the Pipeline and Liberate Tate:

We stand in support of art as a necessity in the service of life, art as a social good, and art as common inheritance of the public.

Therefore, we cannot ignore when art museums allow the public good that art engenders to be misused by powerful corporations in an effort to build credibility when their activities create environmental damage and rights abuses. The sponsorship of art by the fossil fuel industry has long been a public relations ploy aimed at obtaining a social license for destructive profit-making.

Citizens and institutions worldwide are withdrawing support for the continued extraction of fossil fuels that should be kept in the ground. In arts and culture, from London to New York to Sydney, momentum is building for museums to end their connections to the fossil fuel industry. In the UK, artists including Liberate Tate are calling for Tate to culturally divest from the oil company BP. Recently, dozens of leading scientists signed a letter initiated by The Natural History Museum, to remove climate change underwriter David Koch from the board of science museums, and for science museums to cut ties to the fossil fuel industry.

With the new Whitney museum in New York, the public now has an example of a museum that literally incorporates fossil fuel infrastructure into its foundation. The vault of the controversial Spectra gas pipeline is concealed underneath the Whitney museum’s front steps.

The Spectra pipeline is a high-pressure pipeline that brings fracked gas from Pennsylvania and elsewhere to New York City. Should an accident occur, the result could be irreparable harm to the museum, its art collection, workers, and visitors.

Though proponents of “natural” gas promote fracking as a relatively harmless process and claim that gas burns clean, the overall extraction process of fracking has a climate impact comparable to coal. The fracking process pollutes drinking water, creates harmful emissions, and causes earthquakes.

Today we are asking: how can a museum that literally covers up the dirty fossil fuel industry be a beacon for the future of art and culture? This summer, we will host a public assembly in the neighborhood of the new Whitney, and hope that representatives of the museum will be present and active in this important dialogue on art and fossil fuels.

We have Six Key Questions for the Whitney. The people of New York have a right to know the answers to pressing questions before the Whitney opens the doors of its new location.

  • How did the Whitney come to be sited over the Spectra pipeline and its fracked gas?
  • What emergency plans are in place, including
    • how will people and artworks be kept safe and protected if the pipeline explodes, and
    • as the Whitney must be aware of how lax the maintenance and inspection rules are for pipelines, what independent risk mitigation action has it taken?
  • Given that the Whitney now sits on fossil fuel infrastructure, is the art museum committed to exhibit art that explores themes such as the environment, energy, and how corporations operate in society?
  • Will the Whitney ensure that its art education, public and academic programs explore issues such as climate change and the role of art in relation to a safe, habitable environment for Americans and, indeed, all humankind?
  • Does the Whitney believe the energy future of New York should be renewable sources rather than more reliance on fossil fuels that will add to climate change?
  • Will the Whitney move forward with new environmental and ethics policies to enable it to play a responsible leadership role in the art world and sustainability in a time of climate change, including full independence from fossil fuel interests?

Artists, art lovers, environmentally-concerned citizens, and the media will be taking an interest in this issue, internationally as well in New York and across the USA. The decision to co-locate the new Whitney with fossil fuels cannot be ignored. It has given a significance to the site and identity of the art museum that will resonate in the months and years ahead.

The Whitney museum can make active choices now to be a force for good on the right side of history for the future of New York and the planet, for a culture beyond fossil fuels.

Occupy Museums
Occupy the Pipeline
Sane Energy Project
Liberate Tate
Peng Collective
Stopp oljesponsing av norsk kulturliv
The Yes Lab
Not An Alternative
The Natural History Museum
United for Action
Global Ultra Luxury Faction
Guerrilla Girls
People’s Puppets
Rising Tide NYC
NYC Light Brigade
Beyond Extreme Energy
The Mother’s Project
Climate Mama
Shale Property Rights
NYC Bike Dance
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Environmental Action


The Artist as Debtor at Cooper Union 

Martha Rosler's presentation

We live in an era of unprecedented profits from contemporary art sales and massive debts incurred by art students. Are these phenomena related? Is it a coincidence that in an age in which art can be made from nothing, the price attached to an art degree is staggeringly high? Contemporary art institutions amass great wealth through real estate development and the value of their holdings — why then do museums, art-related businesses and art schools rely so heavily on precarious and unpaid labor provided by artists? What are the connections between big money in the art world and the big debts taken on by so many young artists? Are artists encouraged to believe that extreme economic disparity is just part of the way the art world works? Do romantic ideas about merit and talent mask a system of indenture?

Artists Noah Fischer (member of Occupy Museums) and Coco Fusco will present a conference to discuss the art and the debt economy on January 23 2015 at The Great Hall of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. This event is made possible thanks to support from The School of Art at Cooper Union. Our featured speakers include artists Julieta Aranda, William Powhida, Martha Rosler, Gregory Sholette; writer Brian Kuan Wood; W.A.G. E., BFAMFAPHD, and cultural theorist Andrew Ross.


Creative Extraction: Why are Art Schools at the Vanguard of Unreasonable Debt Burdens? A Conversation with Coco Fusco


organized by Occupy Museums:
Friday, December 5, 2014, 6-8 pm:

Momenta Art, 56 Bogart St Brooklyn NY.

FB event here

In recent years, we have witnessed many art school graduates snared into unpayable debt traps through the skyrocketing tuitions paired with low earning potential. Debtfair by Occupy Museums, currently on view in the exhibition “Work It Out,” is a proposal for an alternative art fair that aims to alleviate the debt crisis in the Art World. While proposing a solution based on solidarity, Debtfair also examines the interconnections that exist between student debt, exploitative labor conditions in the art industry, and alliances between the art market and multinational banks and corporations.

How does the “Art World,” whether willingly or unwittingly, take part in an inter-connected web of globalizing neo-liberal economy? While the Art World frolics amid the markets of the Miami Basel Art Fairs, Occupy Museums invites artist and educator, Coco Fusco to introduce a less glamorous section of the Art World: an art education complex paralleled with global practices of labor exploitation, predatory lending, and the privatization of culture. We will discuss broader ranges of oppressive practices, including tuition hikes, predatory lending to students, and the increasing precariousness of faculty positions that parallels other service-labor.


Ritual Rebranding of the David H. Koch Plaza on the Day of its Dedication 


#RebrandKoch #PeoplesClimate  See Facebook event

As the world prepares to converge on NYC in a mass call for Climate Justice, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will honor David H. Koch, a 4-star general in the dirty energy industry’s war against planet earth. The public space and two grand fountains in front of the Met’s facade will be renamed as the David H. Koch Plaza, following an extensive renovation.

The people will be present at the dedication on Tuesday, September 9th to stand in resistance. The celebration of this philanthropic abuse of the commons cannot pass unchallenged. People are rallying to demand sustainable policies for our culture and the ecosystem.

These fountains are boiling. The policies of The Patron contribute to the melting of the ice caps and the rising of the seas.

We invite you to join a ritual cleansing of the Place Formerly Known As David H. Koch Plaza. In a durational ceremony, we will call upon the energies of resistance, chanting and making offerings, and will collectively rename and rebrand the Plaza.

Hyperallergic article on the action

Proposal to Re-Common the David H. Koch Plaza

"The Metropolitan Museum is scouring away the mark of the public, banishing the working artists who sell their art outside the museum to support their artistic practices and feed their families. Koch Plaza is an intolerable affront to the hardworking people of New York who are one Koch-funded cut away from joining the City’s 66,000 homeless.

In a climate of near-total reliance on ever-more powerful plutocrats, how can free speech in public institutions flourish?

Occupy Museums proposes a project to re-common the Museum."

Read our full proposal

Press: Gothamist

recommon the met recommon met


BIG win for Union Labor at Frieze Art Fair 2014:

"One of the most significant consequences of the Occupy Wall Street movement that descended on lower Manhattan in 2011 was a rejection of that cynicism and a renewed vigor in the alliance between cultural workers and actual workers. From Adbusters to n+1, cultural reviews found common cause with labor, united against the increasingly oligarchic structures of capital freed from democratic accountability. So when it first emerged that the Frieze fair, unlike the Armory and the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA), New York’s other two major fairs, would not be employing union labor for the construction of its vast (and vastly temporary) facility, the initial protest fell not just to the slighted unions but to an offshoot of this newly formed consciousness. Occupy Museums staged protests at the exit of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair, passing out pamphlets and copies of the n+1-produced Occupy! Gazette into the hands and windows of fair patrons. An alternative event was also organized: Un-Frieze, a barter-based fair. The unions picketed Frieze sponsor Deutsche Bank at 60 Wall Street and joined Occupy Museums at the fair with a signature inflatable rat."


Occupy Museums joins Gulf Labor, MTL, students from NYU, and others to form Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF). Highlighting Migrant Labor Debt Bondage involved in the construction of new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

Money Rains down in the Guggenheim


Illuminator team joins to rebrand Guggenheim as 1% Global Museum

The Illuminator Joins Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction:

Rebranding the Guggenheim for Exploiting Migrant Workers in Abu Dhabi

At 10:00 pm last night, members of Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) joined by the OWS Illuminator occupied the facade of Guggenheim Museum in Uptown Manhattan for over 40 minutes. G.U.L.F. rebranded the Guggenheim’s flagship museum in protest of complicity at the ill-treatment and economic exploitation of migrant workers in Abu Dhabi who are beginning to build the new Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island (aka ‘Island of Happiness’). G.U.L.F.’s act of messaging solidarity follows recent reports from Human Rights Watch, as well as investigative findings from members of the Gulf Labor Coalition (some of whom overlap with G.U.L.F.) who have just returned from a fact-finding mission in Abu Dhabi where where they visited several worker camps and spoke with workers. They confirmed a reality that is the opposite of happy: multiple labor violations, generated by a system built on human suffering and debt bondage.

Last night, G.U.L.F. renewed the call on the Guggenheim to own up to its responsibility as a leading cultural, educational and art institution, and not take economic advantage of the workers seeking the ‘Gulf Dream’. Workers should not be caught in a debt spiral where they must work for years on building the museum only to pay the fees that brought them to Abu Dhabi in the first place. Guggenheim has a choice here. It must refuse to lend its cultural capital to build the ‘Island of Happiness’ where art and luxury mask and maintain a racialized exploitative labor regime, while using its PR department and those of its partners to hide the facts and mislead the public. Unless the Guggenheim changes course with the new museum in Abu Dhabi, G.U.L.F. will continue to remind the Guggenheim that their brand is: “1% Global Museum.”

1% Museums means 1% Art.

Art built on Oppression Loses Meaning.

There are other possible Futures of Art.


Occupy Museums joins Gulf Labor, MTL, students from NYU, and others to form Global Ultra Luxury Faction (GULF). Highlighting Migrant Labor Debt Bondage involved in the construction of new Guggenheim Abu Dhabi.

First Action of GULF


(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:, 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:


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





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



More Actions

Ceremony at the Pergamon Altar