The Baltimore Museum of Art invited its guards to curate their latest exhibit. Here’s how they took up the challenge

They spend more time looking at the museum’s walls than anyone else – and now, for the first time, they are deciding which art to hang there.

For the Baltimore Museum of Arts’ (BMA) latest exhibit, security guards have taken on curatorial duties. The show, “Guarding the art, ”Contains 25 pieces from BMA’s collection – including works by Louise Bourgeois, Grace Hartigan and Mickalene Thomas – selected by 17 members of the institution’s security team. It opens to the public on Sunday, March 27th.

The purpose of the show, conceived by BMA board member Amy Elias more than a year ago, is to bring the museum’s presentation to life – and invite some new perspectives along the way.

“‘Guarding the Arts’ is more personal than typical museum exhibits,” Elias said in a statement, as “it gives visitors a unique opportunity to see, listen and learn the personal stories and motivations of guest curators. how a visitor can feel about art, rather than just creating a framework for how to think about art. ”

Alfred Dehodencq, <i>Little gypsy</i> (ca. 1850).  Lent by Baltimore Museum of Art. “Width =” 669 “height =” 1024 “srcset =”×1024.jpg 669w,×300.jpg 196w, .45.80-33×50.jpg 33w,×1920.jpg 1255w “sizes =” (max-width: 669px) 100vw, 669px “/></p>
<p class=Alfred Dehodencq, Little gypsy (ca. 1850). Lent by Baltimore Museum of Art.

To select the works for the exhibition, the guards last year began meeting via video chat with members of the museum’s curatorial team. They were faced with some major tasks: searching the museum’s collection, narrowing down their selection, writing weight texts and catalog features, designing lighting schemes – in short, designing and staging an exhibition from head to toe. (Each participant was paid for their curatorial work through a grant from the Pearlstone Family Foundation.)

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

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

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

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

Simplicity was the reason why Alex Dicken, another guest curator, found himself attracted to his only selection, a blue and yellow landscape from 1948 by the surrealist Max Ernst. The title of the artwork serves as a description: Earthquake, late afternoon. (Coincidentally, it is also very similar to the Ukrainian flag.)

When I think of Max Ernst’s paintings, I think of these amazing creatures and alien landscapes. What interested me Earthquake, late afternoon was that they are largely absent, ”said Dicken, a newly graduated philosophy student from St. John’s College Annapolis, which started working as a security officer in 2019 and recently switched to the visiting services team.

“I was interested in the idea that it could have been an attempt to represent a natural disaster from a non-human perspective, detached from the immediate danger of the situation,” Dicken added. “It came out of researching it more closely and thinking about the work.”

Dicken explained that at the beginning of the process, he and his cohort tried to come up with a coherent curatorial theme for the exhibition, but nothing stuck. The meetings moved from Zoom to the museum itself, and he even took with other guards outside of work to address the topic. The question still arose.

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

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

“I know someone else started the same way I did, researching the collection for works that had never been shown before,” Dicken said. “While others had very special interests – for example, wanting to display works from a particular culture or another interest outside the museum, another area of ​​study in which they are interested.”

“It was really more about talking about our specific experiences instead of forming a set of themes that would characterize the exhibition,” the guest curator continued. “Over time, the focus became: ‘What is the diverse range of choices that different guards will make given their total time in the galleries?'”

Guarding the art”Will be viewing the Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, Maryland, March 27-10. July 2022.

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