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At 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 officers, the people who probably spend the most time looking at art, will soon be organizing an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) as guest curators.

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

“The security officers are guarding the art, interacting with the public and seeing reactions from visitors that most museum staff don’t have access to from our offices,” Stokes Sims said. “I was struck and moved by the extraordinarily personal, cogent arguments that each officer made for their selection, which was so different from the intellectual and filtered approach that a trained curator would take.”

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

For example, officer Ricardo Castro chose a series of pre-Columbian sculptures “as a means to inject some of my Puerto Rican-America culture in the exhibition,” while Dereck Mangus selected a painting by a local self-taught painter called Thomas Ruckle titled “House of Frederick Crey,” from 1830 to 35, that partly depicts the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon, Baltimore, the historic home of US founding father George Washington.

“The painting was hung salon-style in the American Wing and stuck out among all these other disparate images,” Mangus said. “It’s a glimpse into an old Baltimore by a Baltimore-centric artist that most people have never heard about 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 Large Shell.”

"House of Frederick Crey" (1830-1835), attributed to Thomas Ruckle.

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

“It’s 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 that this painting reflected my own trajectory as an operatic singer.”

The other officers taking part in the exhibition 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 Elise Tensley. They are now working with museum staff to determine the installation design and to generate a catalog and develop public programs around the exhibition.

“I’ve been impressed by the diligence, devotion and investment they have into this project,” Stokes Sims said. “It will be interesting for the public to see that there can be a multiplicity of curatorial voices in major institutions.”

Top image: “Still Life with Large Shell” (1939), by Max Beckmann.

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