As part of the Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA) ongoing efforts to highlight diverse voices, its newest guest exhibition directors are not the usual professionally trained and intellectually filtered curators, but 17 of the museum’s security officers.
The exhibition, called “Guarding the Art,” will feature artwork chosen by the guards out of the 95,000 artifacts found at the BMA and is meant to challenge the idea that only trained and qualified curators can create valuable exhibitions. Plus, the guards are quite comfortable with the Maryland institution’s collections as they spend day and night in their presence.
BMA Director Christopher Bedford tell Smithsonian, “The vast majority of people have a relationship to creative production that is intimate… in a sense, it’s an experimental show, but it’s also entirely sensible given the familiarity the guards have with the objects.”
The exhibition will include pieces from a variety of eras, mediums, and cultures, all selected by the guards for the way in which they reflect each of their individual interests. The dynamic group is made up of musicians, chefs, writers, and more.
Museum leadership and staff, along with art historian and curator Lowery Stokes Sims, will support and collaborate with the guards to research each piece, design installations, build a catalog, and create public programming. The exhibition is set to debut in March of next year.
So far, the works that have been selected are often overlooked by the general public but resonate on a deeply personal level for the guards who spend their time among the art. For example, Officer Dereck Mangus chose the House of Frederick Crey (1830-35) by local painter Thomas Ruckle, which depicts Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. “It’s a glimpse into an old Baltimore by a Baltimore-centric artist that most people have never even heard about before, and it shows the neighborhood I live in,” Mangus explains.
Some guest curators, like Alex Lei, have selected pieces that are inspired by their experiences as museum guards. Lei’s choice, Waiting for an Answer (1872) by Winslow Homer, is a painting of a man and woman standing in a field, the air still around them.
“The Homer piece is one you may not notice until you stop moving when you’re not distracted by showier works demanding your attention,” Lei says. “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.”
“[T]his show will help change people’s perspective on us, and the artworks at the museum,” Lei continues. “Security guards are literally against the background at museums. We walk by them, we know they’re there, but we don’t always realize that they’re more than just wall fixtures.”