A ubiquitous presence in art museums around the world, guards protect the paintings and sculpture on display and answer visitors' questions. One guard, though, considers himself as much an artwork as the pieces on the wall. Artenol photo

Make art great again: The art worker

By Rowling Dord

 

They’re as much a part of our art museum experience as are white walls and hushed, expansive interiors. We look beyond them, moving from one displayed piece to another, careful to keep a respectful distance. When we do notice musuem guards, they seem bored, vaguely disdainful, footsore. Roused from lethargy, they proffer directions to the restrooms or reprimand the visitor who tries to touch. They all seem vaguely the same – salaried employees doing a job that, like any other, is both a grind and a paycheck.

But Artenol has uncovered one musuem guard who is not what he seems. He is an artist whose art is a kind of unending performance, a marathon of tedium spent in commune with some of the art world’s great masterworks. He sees his presence as one element that, for museumgoers, makes great art great. He agreed to talk about his work, though he asked that we not use his name or mention where he is employed, saying only that he is “on exhibit” 40 hours a week at a major museum in the New York area. Our interview took place in August during a union-mandated break in his regular work shift.

I understand that you were trained as an artist and have a degree from Yale.

Yes, I have an MA in color theory. My thesis was on 17th-century egg tempera pigment variations.

But you’re now a museum guard?

Officially, yes, that’s my title, though I prefer to call myself a facilitator/collaborator.

A facilitator ... what?

Facilitator/collaborator. I view myself as an artwork on display along with the more conventional pieces on the wall and on pedestals. They and I are part of the overall art environment in the museum. I am an extension of them, as they are of me.

How so?

My presence confers meaning, signifies a valuation. I represent a judgment about whatever art is present in the space with me. The fact that I’m here tacitly implies to visitors that the work on the wall is great. And, conversely, the fact that a piece merits a place in the museum’s galleries imbues my presence with a gravitas it otherwise would lack. Without these masterpieces on the wall, I’m just another security guard at a 7-Eleven.

So how do you see yourself as an extension of the art you guard?

You know, “guard” is really the wrong word. That implies division, distance. The art and I are one, in fact. What I do is I facilitate a piece’s entry into contemporary life-space.

In what way?

I provide a context, just as the museum space does. But the fact that I am a living, sentient being, just like the visitors themselves, gives me an expanded role. I instill in the art an immediacy it would otherwise not have. I bring it into the here-and-now ...

Read the rest of this story in the Summer 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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