Art Heroes

Recently (okay, last November) I got a job at the Weisman Art Museum on the UMN campus as a gallery guard. I am part of the last defense between a sticky-handed toddler and priceless pieces of art. It is not a job I take lightly.

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You might realize that me holding this job is the ultimate irony, since I have a track record of touching things I’m not supposed to touch. Not even the “one finger” rule of my youth could stop me from inflicting untold damage once I turned that finger into a hook ideal for dragging things off-balance.

Irony aside, though, I’m pretty happy working for the WAM. We might be a little museum, but we are by no means unremarkable. If you’re a fan of NPR, you may have come across an article about the Beautiful Brain exhibition that opened last Friday (an event at which a stranger made prolonged eye contact with me while she sang a song I’ve never heard). Names like Roy Lichtenstein, Duane Hanson, and Georgia O’Keeffe can be found within our galleries or on loan to others; the building itself was designed by Frank Gehry.

But enough name-dropping. This isn’t about an art history lesson, this is about personal anecdotes from my months of service in the name of art. And believe me, there are plenty. The WAM Fam (or WAMily, if you prefer) have been in the process of brainstorming a gallery guard Bingo card (debut date TBD). Items include:

  • our boss tells us to disperse (when it’s slow we tend to clump together and talk– certain walls have red marks on them from our shirts)
  • someone asks where “the cloud” is (a traveling exhibit that we haven’t had since like May 2015. I’ve never even seen it.)
  • someone with a camera around their neck asks where “the cloud” is
  • a child tries to cop a feel off Dawn
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Honestly, I can’t blame them.

Of course, there are some things that are so outrageous, that it would never occur to us to put on a Bingo card. For example, just yesterday we had some guests that, after careful observation and consultation, we determined were probably on shrooms. I’ll bring up the singing lady again, because honestly that was one of the top three most uncomfortable experiences of my life. And there’s always the occasional school group or small children who fall into one of two camps: 1. Carefully listening to their elders and looking at art with their hands clasped behind their back (AKA the “seasoned museum patron” pose) or 2. Touching everything they can get their grubby little hands on. One day I saw a kid walk up to a piece and give it a good wallop before her mom caught her. Listen kid, just because you don’t like geometric expressionism doesn’t mean you can beat the shit out of it. I don’t go around destroying Dada pieces, do I?

Probably the worst part of the job, however, is Mr. Weisman. Made by the aforementioned Duane Hanson, it is a very lifelike statue of the museum’s founder.

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Very lifelike.

I’m still not used to him and I don’t think I ever will be. I keep thinking it’s a real person chilling in the gallery after we’ve closed and it makes me jump every time. But apparently he’s nothing compared to Mrs. Weisman, also made by Hanson, who lives in storage. You may be wondering why the Weismans (Weismen?) are not on display together, as I did. Apparently the Weismans’ divorce was so contentious and bitter, they had a clause added to the papers that their likenesses could not be on display in the museum at the same time. Hilarious, right? I’m sure no one plans on a divorce, let alone a messy one, but I mean if you’re going to go for it, you might as well go big, right?

Overall, it’s a pretty entertaining job. It can drag by at times, and after working 14 hours over three days my legs are killing me, but generally speaking I can’t complain. It’s nice to take some time out of the day, surrounded by art, to simply be still. And even though I’ve been here three months, I notice a new bowl in the ceramics room every time I go in there. Hell, on Saturday I found an entire wall of paintings I could swear I’ve never seen before.

Plus we’re apparently getting some Darwin specimens in glass jars soon, so…. party?

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