The Baltimore Museum of Art has invited its guards to hold their latest exhibition. Here’s how they took on the challenge

They spend more time staring at the walls of the museum than anyone else – and now, for the first time, they are deciding which artwork will hang there.

For the new exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA), security guards assumed curatorial duties. The show, “keep the artpresents 25 pieces from the BMA’s collection, including works by Louise Bourgeois, Grace Hartigan and Mickalene Thomas, selected by 17 members of the establishment’s security team. It opens to the public this Sunday, March 27.

The aim of the exhibition, conceived by BMA board member Amy Elias more than a year ago, is to enliven the museum’s presentation and invite new perspectives as it road.

“‘Guarding the Art’ is more personal than typical museum exhibits,” Elias said in a statement, as “it offers visitors a unique opportunity to see, hear and learn the personal stories and motivations of guest curators.In this way, the exhibition opens a door to how a visitor might feel about art, rather than simply providing a framework for how to think about art.

Little Gypsy (circa 1850). Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.” width=”669″ height=”1024″ srcset=”×1024 .jpg 669w,×300.jpg 196w, /03/Dehodencq_1996.45.80-33×50.jpg 33w,×1920.jpg 1255w” sizes=”(max-width: 669px ) 100vw, 669px”/>

Alfred Dehodencq, little gypsy (circa 1850). Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

To choose works for the exhibit, custodians began video chatting with members of the museum’s curatorial team last year. They were faced with big tasks: browsing the museum’s collection, refining their selections, writing wall texts and catalog entries, imagining lighting schemes, in short, designing and staging an exhibition from tip to toe. (Each participant was compensated for their conservation work through a grant from the Pearlstone Family Foundation.)

“We were a little nervous because they are serious people and that’s what they do,” said Dominic Mallari, who has worked at the BMA since 2018. “But it turned out to be very welcoming and inviting.

For his contributions to the checklist, Mallari selected two works of art: a square tie-dye canvas by Sam Gilliam and a little-known alternate portrait of a young Roma girl by 19th-century French painter Alfred Dehodencq. . The latter, he said, seemed to him among the many ornate paintings in the museum’s Jacobs Gallery of European Art.

“It was the easiest,” Mallari explained. “You have to use your imagination for that. It was just striking to me.

Sam Gilliam, <i>Blue edge</i> (1971).  ©Sam Giliam.  Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.” width=”1019″ height=”1024″  data-srcset=” 131-1019×1024.jpg 1019w,×150.jpg 150w, upload/2022/03/Gilliam_1992.131-300×300.jpg 300w,×32.jpg 32w, https://news.×50.jpg 50w,×64.jpg 64w,×96.jpg 96w, /Gilliam_1992.131-128×128.jpg 128w,×256.jpg 256w” sizes=”(max-width: 1019px) 100vw , 1019px”/></p>
<p class=Sam Giliam, Blue edge (1971). ©Sam Giliam. Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Simplicity was why Alex Dicken, another guest curator, found himself drawn to his only selection, a 1948 blue and yellow landscape by surrealist Max Ernst. The title of the work is accompanied by a description: Earthquake, late afternoon. (Coincidentally, it also looks a lot like the Ukrainian flag.)

“When I think of Max Ernst’s paintings, I think of those fantastical creatures and extraterrestrial landscapes. What interested me Earthquake, late afternoon it’s that they’re pretty much absent,” said Dicken, a recent philosophy graduate from St. John’s College in Annapolis, who started working as a security guard in 2019 and recently transitioned to the services team. to visitors.

“I was interested in the idea that he might have tried to portray a natural disaster from a non-human perspective, detached from the immediate danger of the situation,” Dicken added. “It came out on further investigation and reflection on the job.”

Dicken explained that early in the process, he and his cohort tried to come up with a cohesive curatorial theme for the exhibit, but nothing stuck. Meetings moved from Zoom to the museum itself, and he even met with other guards outside of work to discuss the subject. The question still arose.

Max Ernst, <i>Earthquake, late afternoon</i> (1948).  © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.  Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.” width=”1024″ height=”566″  data-srcset=”×566 .jpg 1024w,×166.jpg 300w, /03/Ernst_1951.297_o3-50×28.jpg 50w” sizes=”(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px”/></p>
<p class=Max Erst, Earthquake, late afternoon (1948).
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

With the help of art historian and curator Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims, who joined the project as a mentor, the group finally stopped looking for a theme to tie together all of the curators’ ideas and instead chose to embrace the multiplicity of perspectives.

“I know someone else started the same way I did, investigating the collection of works that had never been exhibited before,” Dicken said. “While others had very particular interests, such as wanting to exhibit works from a particular culture or another of their interests outside of the museum, another area of ​​study that appeals to them.”

“It was more about talking about our specific experiences rather than forming a set of themes that would characterize the exhibition,” continued the guest curator. “Over time, the focus became, ‘How diverse are the selections that various guards will make given their collective time in the galleries? “”

keep the artwill be on view from March 27 to July 10, 2022 at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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