A week or so ago in class, a gallery was mentioned where the guards’ favorite art pieces were handed out to gallery-goers (or something similar). This reminded me of a sculpture I saw at the Whitney about museum guards that really made me think and also made me feel pretty guilty. The object label is below:
Fred Wilson’s Guarded View aggressively confronts viewers with four black headless mannequins dressed as museum guards. Each figure wears a uniform, dating to the early 1990s, from one of four New York City cultural institutions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Despite this specificity, the faceless mannequins underscore the anonymity expected of security personnel, who are tasked with protecting art and the public while remaining inconspicuous and out of view. Wilson himself worked as a museum guard in college, and explained: “[There’s] something funny about being a guard in a museum. You’re on display but you’re also invisible.” He challenges this dynamic by placing these ordinarily unnoticed figures at the center of our attention, pointing to the hidden power relations and social codes that structure our experience of museums. Wilson’s inanimate guards themselves become sculpture—figures that we are meant to observe but are incapable of observing us.
The audio guide stop for the sculpture can be heard here: http://whitney.org/WatchAndListen?play_id=496