Security guards become guest curators at the Baltimore Museum of Art

Opera singer

Max Beckmann, Still Life with a Big Shell (1939)
Courtesy of the Baltimore Art Museum. Artist’s Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.

Museum security guards, the ones who probably spend the most time viewing art, will soon be hosting an exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) as guest curators. The show Keep Art, which will open in March 2022, bring together a selection of works that resonate with each of the 17 participating officers and offer “different perspectives within the museum hierarchy,” says curator and art historian Lowery Stokes Sims, who helped develop the project.

“Security guards guard the artwork, interact with the public, and observe visitor reactions that most museum staff cannot access from our offices,” says Stokes Sims. “I was struck and moved by the extraordinarily personal and compelling arguments each officer made for their selection, which were so different from the intellectual and filtered approach that a qualified curator would take.”

Attributed to Thomas Ruckle, House of Frederick Crey (1830-1835)
Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art

For example, officer Ricardo Castro chose a series of pre-Columbian sculptures “as a way to inject part of my Puerto Rican-American culture into the exhibit,” while Dereck Mangus selected a painting by a local self-taught painter called Thomas Ruckle titled Frédéric Crey’s House (1830-1835) which partly represents the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. “The painting was hung in the style of a living room in the American wing and stood out among all these other disparate images,” says Mangus. “This is a glimpse into an old Baltimore by a Baltimore-centric artist that most people have never heard of before, and it shows the neighborhood I live in.”

Kellen Johnson, who has a background in classical vocals and performance, chooses Max Beckmann Still life with a large seashell (1939). “This is a portrait of his second wife, Matilda, who was a violinist and gave up her career to support Beckmann and his painting aspirations,” says Johnson. “His first wife was also an opera singer, and I felt this painting reflected my own career as an opera singer.”

Other officers participating in the exhibit 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 Élise Tensley. They are now working with museum staff to determine the installation design, generate a catalog, and develop public programs around the exhibit.

Sam Gilliam, Blue Edge (1971)
Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art and the David Kordansky Gallery

“I was impressed with their diligence, dedication and investment in this project,” says Stokes Sims. “It will be interesting for the public to see that there can be a multiplicity of curatorial voices in large institutions. ”