We Wanted a More “Punk” Exhibition; The Museum Said No
by Dereck Stafford Mangus
Published April 16 in Hyperallergic
Excerpt: A little over two years ago, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) invited its security staff to participate in Guarding the Art, an exhibition to be curated by guards. In early 2021, we were asked to attend a mandatory Zoom meeting without being informed of the agenda. As they started to roll out the concept, I remember texting my coworker friend (out of view of my laptop’s camera) to see what she thought about the proposed project. “Would you do this?” I had my own reservations as I’m not exactly a group project kind of person. However, we both agreed that it sounded like a worthwhile endeavor. The institution may have its own priorities, but perhaps we could make the show our own somehow.
Over the following year, the 17 guards who elected to participate in Guarding the Art, worked on the various phases of the project: object selection and conservation reviews; exhibition design and installation; research and writing for wall texts and catalog entries; creating public programs and receiving media training. Each guest curator got involved in the process to whatever level they felt comfortable.
The opening reception was exciting: We were wined and dined and felt like kings and queens for a night, momentary art world celebrities. We were proud of our accomplishment and looking forward to its many unfolding phases: the public programs, gallery tours, media spots; the happenstance encounters in the galleries, and explaining the show’s concept to visitors who hadn’t heard about the exhibition. A year later, it all feels like a dream — a dream worthy of recurring.