Baltimore Museum of Art opens exhibit curated by its own security guards

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Written by Zoe Sottile, CNN

Most days, Rob Kempton protects many of the beautiful works on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but this weekend he curates them.
Kempton is one of 17 executives participating in the “Guarding the Art” exhibition featuring 25 unique works selected by members of the BMA security team. Held from March 27th to July 10th, this exhibition will give you a glimpse into the world of art as seen by the guards watching.

The idea for the exhibition came from Amy Elias, one of the museum’s councilors. From a conversation with her friend, she began to think about “how guards spend more time on art than anyone else,” she told CNN. “So I went home at night, and well, I thought it would be interesting to hear from the guards what part of the work they find most meaningful.”

The exhibition will be held from March to July 2022. credit: Mitrohood / Baltimore Museum of Art

Kempton, who joined BMA’s security team in 2016, jumped at the opportunity to join. “I’ve never been a security guard before,” he told CNN. “But working at BMA surrounded by art was important to me.”

In fact, his love of art was so “deepened” that he earned a museology degree from Johns Hopkins University.

“Guarding the Art,” he said, provided the opportunity to “learn real-life experiences in the gallery” while honing the skills he had cultivated in his research.

Creating conversations between visitors

The exhibition provides an interesting and interesting perspective on the world of art, but it is also very serious.

Participating guards engaged in a two-year process of selecting works, designing installations, creating content for catalogs and other materials, and planning visitor tours and other public programs.

“The most interesting thing is to learn about the guards and why they gather them through the selected works of art and through the stories attached to each work,” Elias said.

The guards spent two years gaining practical experience in curating and installing museum exhibits.

The guards spent two years gaining practical experience in curating and installing museum exhibits. credit: Mitrohood / Baltimore Museum of Art

Kempton chose two abstract paintings to include in the show, Grace Hartigan’s interior, “Creek” (1957) and Alma Thomas’ Evening Glow (1972).

“I love how it’s such a confrontational painting,” he said of Hartigan’s work. “It’s so big that it feels dwarf when you look closely.” Kempton realized that he was attracted to “rich and opaque colors. Really intense and improvised shaving of palette knives.”

Or, “Evening Glow is a picture I knew well from working here,” he said. “And it was always a painting that I was able to return to and engage in.” Kempton added that he wanted to emphasize Alma Thomas, an “unrecognized, unrecognized artist.”

Kempton often looks for opportunities to interact with visitors through artwork. “I’ve always thought this was the perfect moment to create a conversation between visitors, and they already have something in common,” he said.

“We hope that visitors will be able to move away from the new experience and challenge and inspire to see such heterogeneous objects talking to each other,” he added.

Challenge to the status quo

Asma Naeem, BMA’s chief curator, states that “Guarding the Art” is part of the museum’s efforts to challenge the status quo and emphasize the underrated voice in the museum world.

Inviting security guards to manage the exhibition is a “simple idea,” Naim told CNN. “But it’s art for whom, museums for whom, who talks about art, who has knowledge, and other types that have knowledge about the art we want to hear. I’m asking some very deep questions about people in the world. And the answer is: yes, absolutely. “

Security guard and guest curator Alex Rae chose Winslow Homer's painting

Security guard and guest curator Alex Rae chose Winslow Homer’s painting “Waiting for an Answer” (1872). credit: Baltimore Museum of Art

According to Naim, the works on display cover a variety of themes, including the Black Lives Matter movement, the Covid-19 pandemic, and their relationship to the guards’ own work. For example, security guard and guest curator Alex Rae chose Winslow Homer’s painting “Waiting for an Answer” (1872).

Engaging security guards in the curation is “what all museums can do,” Elias said. “And you know, I think it would be interesting for many other museums to do this.”

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