Security guards become show curators at a Baltimore museum

·3-min read
The Baltimore Museum of Art invited its security officers to curate an exhibition titled "Guarding the Art."

Usually part of the decor, the Baltimore Museum of Art has decided to put its security guards in the spotlight. In fact, the American museum's security officers will step into the role of curators for a show titled "Guarding the Art," due to open next March. It's a chance for visitors to discover a new facet of their profession.

The 17 Baltimore Museum of Art security officers taking part in the project probably know the BMA's collection better than most of its visitors. That's why the museum decided to give them carte blanche for "Guarding the Art." The Baltimore Museum of Art's security team selected seventeen works from the cultural institution's collection, including Emile-Antoine Bourdelle's "Head of Medusa (Door Knocker)," Jeremy Alden's "50 Dozen" and Thomas Ruckle's "House of Frederick Crey.

Some guards, like Alex Lei, chose paintings that indirectly refer to their daily life in the BMA, such as "Waiting for an Answer" by the American painter and printmaker, Winslow Homer. "The Homer piece is one you may not notice until you stop moving, when you're not distracted by showier works demanding your attention. It's a painting of people caught in a moment of waiting, noticed by those who stop and wait, and strangely reflective of the experience of being a guard -- a job mostly made up of waiting," he explains.

To stage "Guarding the Art," the museum security officers have been assisted by the art historian and curator, Lowery Stokes Sims. They are currently working with museum staff to determine the exhibition layout, produce a catalog and develop public programs around this art event.

Beyond the security officer's uniform

Christopher Bedford, the BMA's Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director, is certain that the "Guarding the Art" will be a hit when it opens to the public in March 2022. "Our security officers spend more time in our galleries and living among our collection than any other staff within the institution," he said. "It is their perspectives, their insights, and their relationships with the art and daily interactions with our visitors that will set the stage for 'Guarding the Art' to be an exceptional experience."

This isn't the first time an American museum has called on its security guards to share their thoughts about the works they watch over every day. MoMA previously spotlighted its own security personnel last year through "Beyond the Uniform," a playlist created in collaboration with the visual artist, Chemi Rosado-Seijo. It gives museum visitors the chance to get to know these professionals, who know more about MoMA's collection than you might think.

"A lot of these guards are artists themselves, and that's a big reason why they work here. They want to be surrounded by these pieces of art, and they want to protect it too. And actually, they want to tell you more than it's on the walls," explains Chemi Rosado-Seijo in "Beyond the Uniform."

Caroline Drzewinski