Love and hate at the Guggenheim.


On May Day 2015, members of the Gulf Ultra Luxury Faction (G.U.L.F.) unveiled a large parachute in the Guggenheim Museum rotunda with the words “Meet Workers Demands Now” (photo by Benjamin Sutton/Hyperallergic)

As a retired art teacher and current – can I claim this? – artist, I have always had a love/hate relationship with art museums.


I remember the moment I saw a painting by Vermeer and the surprising physical reaction. I think I nearly buckled at the knees.

I try to visit at least once a year the huge Matisse painting of Bathers by a River at the Art Institute of Chicago.

It was my teaching mentor Leon Bellin’s favorite and now it is mine.


On the other hand, when I am in New York a visit to the Met is almost too overwhelming. No matter how crowded, I never feel welcome. It is like I have been allowed inside some rich person’s house.

Look. But don’t touch.

Once, on a visit to the Prado in Madrid, Anne and I grabbed the three-fold map and guide at the front door and made a game of trying to find all fifty masterworks illustrated with thumbnails and locations, crossing a line through each one as we went.

In under 45 minutes.

I am sure this did not improve the image of Americans in Spain.

On the other hand, one of our favorite moments was when a security guard at the Brooklyn Museum took time to point out the details of a piece in a exhibit of American women’s quilts. She got to look at it every day and knew every inch of it. She loved it and took ownership of it and shared her observations with no less a sense of knowledge than a university degreed curator.

Today I read that the boys who run the Guggenheim Museum have broken off talks with a group they have been negotiating with for nine years.

When most think of the Guggenheim they think of the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright spiral on New York’s upper east side.

Or the Frank Gehry franchise in Bilbao, Spain.

Few are aware that Guggenheim is opening another branch in Abu Dhabi.

Artists, labor and human rights activists from around the world have joined together to demand that the billionaire patrons of the Guggenheim pay attention to the labor conditions of the workers who will be building the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim.

It is easy to forget that workers built the Art Institute, The Met, The Louvre and the Guggenheim.

We may not know their names like we know the names Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry.

The failure of the talks comes after a roughly yearlong process that began after the 2015 May Day occupation of the New York Guggenheim and the May 8 occupation of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice during the Venice Biennale.

I will be spending some days in New York next week.

I won’t be visiting the Guggenheim.

One Reply to “Love and hate at the Guggenheim.”

  1. It is difficult to separate art and it’s history from the rich and the elites. Art for the masses has generally been critically disparaged. Sad but True. I can give you example after example.

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