(all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Nevertheless, some museum visitors might see guards, so often silent and stone-faced, as more machine than human. That is a misconception. Many guards … speak with obvious passion about the exhibitions, as well as the visitors, for which they feel responsible.

“Museum guards find the lost, shepherd the confused and save runaway toddlers from impending collisions with immovable sculptures. The job demands long hours, constant vigilance and a reservoir of patience to put up with illicit picture takers, soda smugglers and pontificating amateur art critics, among other annoyances. Consider these guards the army grunts of the art world.”

—David Wallis, “Varied Duties, and Many Facets, in a Guard’s Life,” New York Times, March 20, 2013


“‘One of the things is that people always forget about museums, and forget about guards, is that when the docents go, the curators go, we’re the only ones left,’ says Booker, 72, one of several museum guards at L.A.’s major museums who talked about their unusual line of work for a Sunday Arts & Books story.

“‘And patrons are very demanding — they don’t care if you are a curator, they want to know, and you are supposed to know because you are standing in front of this stuff,’ Booker continues. ‘And to know a lot, more than just where’s the toilet and where’s the Picasso. They want to know about every kind of art there is.’”

—Diane Haithman, “Museum security guards: Lots of art and a little eavesdropping,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2011


“Aside from the fact that the Russian museum guards appear to be a homogenous corps of women of a certain age and museum security staff in the U.S. is more diverse, the two significant differences between guarding art in Russia and guarding art in this country is the uniform and the chair.”

—Robin Wander, “Lens turned on museum guards in new exhibit at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center,” Stanford News, July 25, 2012


“I set out to get the opinions of these master observers on the pieces they guard day in and day out. Unfortunately, getting them to open up turned out to be more difficult than I had originally thought. I went to the Whitney Biennial’s press preview thinking I could waltz up to anyone with a badge, ask them whatever I wanted, and be met with a happy reply. Instead, my questions were answered with questions like, ‘Who are you?’ and, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ Later, I emailed the museum’s senior publicist and was told that ‘it is Whitney policy to have only curators comment on the art…’ Bourgeois elitism! Someone take the cork out of these untapped geysers of art criticism and let them gush!”

—Xavier Aaronson, “No Fluff in Their Stuff: Museum Guards Review the Whitney Biennial,” Vice, April 5, 2012


“When I worked at the Walker, we had a series of tiny (about two or three inches high, for easy concealment) books called Bored Beyond Belief. They passed hands from guard to guard, and everyone added things – stories, writing, art, and comics.

“Most of the guards were artists of some kind, so they were usually well drawn and always entertaining, especially when faced with the kind of sensory deprivation one is sometimes subjected to in that situation. (My first month there was rotating through six empty galleries and a Donald Judd exhibit.)

“I believe that most of them are in the possession of the series originator.”

—@xicana63 on “A Day in the Life of a Security Guard,” Metafilter, November 14, 2013


“Is it about, that the guards matter? Or is it about the matter of the guards … And we thought it’s basically about both those things.”

—Margot Adler, “Museum Guards ‘Sw!pe’ The Spotlight,” NPR, March 20, 2010


“‘Part of the advantage of hiring artists and art students is that they’re more enthusiastic about the artwork,’ said Joel Woodard, head of security.”

—Kathleen Luppi, “Art Museum’s guards aren’t just security experts — they’re also artists,” Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, July 31, 2014


“The game consists of two-minute matches in which two players take on two roles: the photographer and the guard. The photographer’s task is to take a photo of each museum exhibit by moving next to it, while the guard has to take the photographer into custody before he succeeds.”

—András Neltz, “Tourists Face Off Against Museum Guards in a Great-Looking Party Game,” Kotauku, December 31, 2013


“‘[Performance artist] Marina Abramovic attracted a lot of people from all over the country. Two days before the exhibition ended, a lady waited all day and couldn’t get her time. She said she was going to sleep outside the museum all night so she’d be first in line for the final day. The next morning, she was the first person queued up. As she approached Marina, she started taking off her clothes. The security officers surrounded her and covered her up. She said, ‘This is what Marina likes! I’m performing too.’ We managed to get her to put her clothes back on, but she started crying when we had to ask her to leave.’—Tunji Adeniji, director of facilities and safety, MoMA”

—Sarah Bruning, “Museum stories of the worst museumgoers security guards have seen,” Time Out New York, June 25, 2014


“For the grand finale of the museum of museum guards, perhaps even for the encore, it would have to be a guard from the third floor of the National Gallery. Between attempts to bring the Italian Renaissance and German Romanticism closer together, it resounds, so that the marble in the columns starts to shake and the faces of boys and girls on the paintings flush. The museum, in which the exhibits protect themselves alone, will end with a room with a display of the fart of a guard, an act inspired by classical art, a gesture of pure, organic creative expression, without restraint and without apology.”

—Aleš Šteger, “The Museum of Museum Guards” (translation by Brian Henry), Blackbird Archive


Jeff Koons: A Retrospective continues at the Whitney Museum (945 Madison Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) until October 19.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.