Guard for a Night, as Told by Two Registrars
Thursday, December 7, 2017 by
As staff members of the Collections Department, our work mainly occurs behind the scenes. We are tasked with the care of the Museum’s collections and incoming loans for exhibitions, but we rarely interact with the public. Every so often though, our Chief Operations Officer sounds the call for all hands on deck when the Museum hosts events with an anticipated large attendance. It is during these events that we get to experience museum work from a different perspective, standing guard within the galleries and mingling with visitors.
While serving as a guard for Rhythm & Power: Salsa in New York, registrar Miranda relates a typical visitor interaction.
Visitor: “Oooh, what’s that? Is that really Tito Puente’s jacket?”
Miranda: “Yes, and there are his shoes and his timbales!”
I was glad to be able to point out items that would interest this visitor, and make their experience even more stimulating. It’s great to see that all the work we did to create the show is worth it, and people are interested in the stories we tell. I asked one man to please take his backpack off and hold it at his side or wear it on his front. “Why?” “So you don’t bump into other people or objects” “Oh!” He smiled and complied instantly. I asked another woman the same thing, and she said “That’s OK, I’ll just leave.” Come back, visitor! We don’t want you to leave! Even though it seems like the requests are pointless, they really are there for a reason. Please enjoy the exhibitions, but please also be considerate of the people and artifacts around you.
Why so many rules???
As Registrars, we are always concerned with the safety and care of the artwork on display in the galleries. Certain precautions are taken during the installation process to protect works of art from damage, but sometimes touching an object can be irresistible for visitors. Once the exhibition is open to the public, gallery guards attentively protect artworks from any wandering hands; but it is during large events that our position as Registrars comes into play. In addition to our regular guards, Collections staff serve as extra eyes and ears on the gallery floors, keeping watchful over the precious objects. More people equals more hands!
The following rules help us keep the artworks safe from harm:
- No food or beverages in the gallery. You never know when you will trip over your own feet and that water bottle you thought was screwed tightly shut goes flying through the air.
- No flash photography. Bright lights are damaging to fragile objects.
- No touching the objects. Fingers leave oil behind on surfaces, permanently damaging the artwork.
- No smoking or vaping (including e-cigarettes). Have you ever seen the discolored wall paint in the homes of heavy smokers? That can happen to museum objects too.
- No running or horseplay in the galleries. We want our visitors to enjoy their time visiting the Museum, but cartwheels of joy should be done outside!
- Backpacks should be carried on the front of the body or on one shoulder. People often forget how much space a backpack is taking up behind them. By carrying backpacks on the front of the body or on one shoulder, the carrier won’t accidentally back into a sculpture or painting with their bag when trying to take the coveted selfie.
We are glad to see what our visitors and what our front-of-house staff sees. So much of our time is spent putting the objects in place, and thinking about their safety, that it always great to see them being enjoyed.