This is a selection from an ongoing (as yet) untitled work on museum guards. The work explores the formal relation between museum guards and the aesthetic space that they inhabit.
The photographs have been processed in such a way as to flatten and erase the distinction between guard and work in order to incorporate and level both into pure form. This flattening further comments on the anonymous, often under appreciated and underpaid labor that keeps museums running. In erasing the distinction between art and guard, the viewer is forced to finally see the guards, to engage with their presence, to acknowledge their integrality to the museum both aesthetically as form and logistically as labor.
What’s more, when the guard is brought into focus, the experience of a museum changes for the viewer. The act of observing, of a visitor engaging with a work of art, becomes troubled by the presence of third party (the guard) engaged in the act of observing the observer. In the presence of a museum guard the museum goer becomes self conscious—conscious of her physical presence within an enclosed space, conscious of the act of observation itself. The fact that the viewer is also engaged in observation, often intense observation, only heightens the awareness of being observed. Questions begin to arise in the mind of the viewer: Have I looked at this work for too long? Not long enough? Am I standing too close? Should I move to the next room? Once the guard’s gaze is internalized, each step, each shift of weight on fatigued museum feet, feels suspect.
It is not just the act of observation that is troubled, but the value of the museum experience itself. Constantly face to face with some of the world’s great artistic offerings, the guard’s attention is almost always diverted elsewhere. Their apparent boredom, or perhaps nonchalance, in the face of the artwork forces us to ask what viewership is worth and whether novelty is the primary force at play—whether our treasured works can stand the test of repetition.
About Jake Romm
Jake Romm’s writing and photography have appeared in The New Inquiry, The Forward, Humble Arts Foundation, Loosen Art Gallery, Fisheye Gallery, Phroom, Across the Margin, and Reading The Pictures. He currently lives in Philadelphia.