“Keeping the art”: in this museum exhibition, the security guards are the curators


Written by Gabriella Angeleti

This article was originally published by The Art Newspaper, an editorial partner of CNN Style.
Museum security guards, the ones who probably spend the most time viewing art, will soon be hosting an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) as guest curators.

The “Guarding the Art” exhibition, which will open in March 2022, will bring together a selection of works that resonate with each of the 17 participating officers and offer “different perspectives within the museum hierarchy,” said the curator and art historian. Lowery Stokes Sims, who helped develop the project.

“Security guards guard the art, interact with the public and see visitor reactions that most museum staff do not have access to from our offices,” said Stokes Sims. “I was struck and moved by the extraordinarily personal and compelling arguments each officer made for their selection, which were so different from the intellectual and filtered approach that a qualified curator would take.”

“Blue Edge” (1971) by Sam Gilliam. Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art

For example, officer Ricardo Castro chose a series of pre-Columbian sculptures “as a way to inject part of my Puerto Rican-American culture into the exhibit,” while Dereck Mangus selected a painting by a local self-taught painter called Thomas Ruckle titled “House of Frederick Crey”, 1830-35, which is part of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, Baltimore, the historic home of the founding father of the United States, George Washington.

“The painting was hung salon style in the American wing and stood out among all these other disparate images,” Mangus said. “This is a glimpse into an old Baltimore by a Baltimore-centric artist that most people have never heard of before, and it shows the neighborhood I live in.”

Officer Kellen Johnson, who has a background in classical singing and performance, chose German painter Max Beckmann’s 1939 work “Still Life with a Large Seashell”.

“House of Frederick Crey” (1830-1835), attributed to Thomas Ruckle. Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art

“This is a portrait of his second wife, Matilda, who was a violinist and gave up her career to support Beckmann and his painting aspirations,” Johnson said. “His first wife was also an opera singer, and I felt this painting reflected my own career as an opera singer.”

Other officers participating in the exhibit are Traci Archable-Frederick, Jess Bither, Ben Bjork, Melissa Clasing, Bret Click, Alex Dicken, Michael Jones, Rob Kempton, Chris Koo, Alex Lei, Dominic Mallari, Sara Ruark, Joan Smith and Élise Tensley. They are now working with museum staff to determine the installation design, generate a catalog, and develop public programs around the exhibit.

“I was impressed with the diligence, dedication and investment they have in this project,” Stokes Sims said. “It will be interesting for the public to see that there can be a multiplicity of curatorial voices in large institutions.”

Top image: “Still life with a large shell” (1939), by Max Beckmann.

Read more stories from The arts journal here.

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