Over the past few years, the Baltimore Museum of Art has been at the forefront of activating groundbreaking initiatives that inspire people to think differently about art and its impact, and the “Guarding the Art” exhibition , which opens on Sunday, is a clear example. I sat in director Chris Bedford’s office two years ago and explained that I had an idea that I thought fell into this revolutionary category and that I was willing to stay in his office until until he agrees to sue her. I was convinced he would see the idea capture the essence of all that the BMA can and should be. And he did. Guarding the Art became official from this conversation.
The idea itself was born a few days earlier, after I had dinner with Asma Naeem, the chief curator of the BMA. Dr. Naeem saw the paradoxical work of the museum caretaker – as a constant presence yet barely noticed by museum visitors. I went home that evening and continued to think about our conversation and how interesting it would be to hear the security guards say what works of art had meaning and were special to them. It occurred to me that others might also find the guards’ views compelling. After all, during their working days, guards live with art.
Consider this: for every profound encounter a visitor may have with a work of art, somewhere in the background of the gallery is a security guard, silently observing both the visitor and the art. . Day after day and week after week, there are no other museum employees who spend more time with the works of art on display than the caretakers. Their insights are born from the countless times they’ve spent surveying the galleries and interacting with visitors on weekends, when the museum is bustling with families, tourists, student groups and neighborhood residents. who quickly wander into a favourite. wing. And, on occasions when the galleries are quiet, they have time to focus their full attention on the art. Essentially, the BMA’s collection is a constant for guards, oscillating between backdrop and focal point.
The exhibition is more personal than a typical museum exhibition in which a single curatorial voice educates the audience about a body of work and how it fits into the context of art history. In Guarding the Art, the works were selected by the 17 guest curators (the security guards) and shed light on the personal stories and motivations of those who selected them.
Take, for example, Ricardo Castro. A three-year veteran of the BMA’s security team, Mr. Castro is Puerto Rican and wanted to find works by Puerto Rican artists in the BMA’s collection. When works by Puerto Rican artists were not available, he instead selected works from indigenous cultures in neighboring countries. He also requested that a display case remain vacant for Puerto Rico. While Mr Castro looked back to his roots, his colleague Kellen Johnson, a classical vocal performance scholar at Towson University, found inspiration in his professional ambitions. He selected works related to music, both pictorially and historically. Michael Jones, meanwhile, let his daycare work inspire the presentation of the object he selected. After watching visitors attempt to touch sculptural works while browsing the galleries, Mr. Jones – an artist himself – designed a custom case for Head of Medusa (Door Knocker). There are guards like Rob Kempton, who has selected pieces that have drawn him to galleries over the years. The abstract works of Grace Hartigan, Alma Thomas and Helen Frankenthaler that brought him peace and joy at work are what he sought to bring to the show. And there’s Joan Smith, who wanted to highlight works that she thought marred form and function beautifully.
In this way, the exhibition opens a door to how a visitor might experience art or relate to art, rather than simply providing frameworks for how to think about art. I hope Guarding the Art offers visitors a new understanding of the personal ways we can all connect with art and a pathway to empathy with the people around us.
Amy Elias ([email protected]listen)) is Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Baltimore Museum of Art and Founder and CEO of Profiles Inc.