Nicolai Ouroussoff writes in The New York Times:
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, luxury resorts, golf clubs, marinas and acres of private villas.
“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.”
This is a significant and important step. Perhaps (we hope) one that fosters crucial rethinking of what is perhaps requested of the Gulf region: better monitored and ethical working conditions for its labor force. To delve into a sorry cliche, perhaps art can be so much more. Building isn't going to stop as of yet, but a start is still a start.