“Guarding the Art” Exhibition Guest Curated by BMA Security Officers Opens March 27

Works of art reveal the perspectives of the people who spend the greatest amount of time in the museum’s galleries

(BALTIMORE, MD – February 17, 2022)—For the first time in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s (BMA) history, the people who protect the art have selected the art. Guarding the Art, an exhibition curated entirely by 17 members of the museum’s security team, opens on Sunday, March 27, with approximately 25 works of art from across the BMA’s collection. The exhibition highlights the unique perspectives of the officers and their reflections on the featured objects are drawn from their many hours in the galleries, their interactions with visitors, and their personal stories and interests. Works by Jeremy Alden, Louise Bourgeois, Sam Gilliam, Grace Hartigan, Winslow Homer, Alma W. Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, and unidentified artists from Colombia, Costa Rica, and the Solomon Islands are among those featured in the exhibition. Guarding the Art is on view through July 10, and includes a fully illustrated catalogue.

The project was conceived last year by BMA Trustee Amy Elias as the result of a conversation with Dr. Asma Naeem, BMA Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Chief Curator, about ways to engage with the security guards who spend more time with the museum’s collection than anyone else. Following that initial conversation, Elias continued to think about this challenge and then presented her concept of Guarding the Art to BMA leadership who wholeheartedly embraced the idea.

Guarding the Art is more personal than typical museum shows as it gives visitors a unique opportunity to see, listen and learn the personal histories and motivations of guest curators,” said Elias. “In this way, the exhibition opens a door for how a visitor might feel about the art, rather than just providing a framework for how to think about the art.”

The project began with an inquiry sent to all members of the BMA’s security team gauging their interest in developing an exhibition that would provide them with an opportunity to have their voices heard through their perspectives about the museum’s collection. Seventeen members of the BMA signed on as guest curators and have worked over the past year in collaboration with museum leadership and staff to engage in every facet of exhibition development. The guest curators include Traci Archable-Frederick, Jess Bither, Ben Bjork, Ricardo Castro, Melissa Clasing, Bret Click, Alex Dicken, Kellen Johnson, Michael Jones, Rob Kempton, Chris Koo, Alex Lei, Dominic Mallari, Dereck Mangus, Sara Ruark, Joan Smith, and Elise Tensley.   Renowned art historian and curator Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims provided additional mentorship and professional development guidance. Along with the creative opportunity, each participant was compensated for their time with funds directed from a lead grant from the Pearlstone Family Foundation.

For many of the guest curators, selecting the objects for the exhibition was the most challenging aspect of this project. After proposing up to three top choices, the group met with curators, conservators, and exhibition designers to learn more about each work, its condition, and presentation requirements. They debated several variations of the gallery floor plan and made final selections based on how well the works would fit in the spaces. Once that was completed, work on writing the object labels and producing content for the publication began. The team also met with education team members to develop public programs and marketing team members to discuss graphic identity, social media, and communications. All of their work, which continues through the July 10 closing of the exhibition, was coordinated by Sarah Cho, BMA Curatorial Assistant for American Painting & Sculpture and Decorative Arts, and Katie Cooke, BMA Curatorial Assistant to the Chief Curator and the Curatorial Division.

“There is so much more to see in the BMA’s collection than what’s on the gallery walls. It’s been exciting to get first-hand experience in organizing an exhibition and discovering all the behind-the-scenes considerations. It gives you a new respect for how museums work and the stories they tell,” said Elise Tensley. “I cannot wait to see all the objects we’ve selected on display.”