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In new museum exhibit, security guards choose the art

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Posted at 12:22 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 14:22:07-04

BALTIMORE, Md. — Amid a museum’s paintings and sculptures, both new and old, Joan Smith usually makes her rounds.

“I am a security officer,” she said.

Now, she’s got a new job title to add to that – exhibit curator.

“It's an historical event for us to be able to do something like this,” Smith said.

That event – called “Guarding the Art” -- brings together Smith, along with 16 other security guards at the Baltimore Museum of Art, as the curators of a new exhibit.

“We all come from backgrounds and people will look at you - because you’re security - and be like, ‘that’s just security’ - but not knowing the person behind the scene,” Smith said.

Smith chose two items to display: a century-old water bottle from the Solomon Islands and a basket from a Native American tribe in California.

“This is the water bottle, which is so cute and dainty and beautiful, but it's also functional,” she said. “And we can all relate to having baskets in our home. We love baskets - I know I do.”

Nearby, Security Officer Bret Click opted for whimsy, in the 16th century painting, “Entry Into the Ark,” attributed to Italian painter Jacobo Bassano.

“It's Noah's Ark,” Click said. “There's literally so many things that you can find in here and everything is a little bit hidden.”

So, he often asks museum visitors to play along and see what they can spot, hidden in the large painting.

“This one is probably my favorite one to do the game with - the one that I send people searching for, is this little element right here,” Click said, pointing to a small, vague face, hidden near a monkey. “I like to think of it as like a little demon stowaway that's trying to get onto the ark to free itself from damnation.”

The idea of getting guards involved with the art they often watch over, initially came from a conversation involving the museum’s chief curator Asma Naeem.

“The security guards are in front of the art every day,” Naeem said. “They're the ones interacting with the visitors. They're the ones who are hearing the tour guides. And I thought, ‘they actually have a whole set of knowledge that would be so great to learn about.’”

They are also bringing with them a new perspective to share.

“I have a piece here from Costa Rica, I have one from Ecuador and I have one from Colombia,” said security officer Ricardo Castro, Jr.

Castro, who is Puerto Rican, wanted to ensure Hispanics and pre-Columbian art had a place in the exhibit.

In the display case, he also left one empty spot.

“I think it's an awesome statement for young Hispanics out there, who want to be creative and think that they don't have a place in this art world - and I wanted to give them that,” he said.

It’s a chance to present a new view of art from those who often stand by it.