Museum Guard Critiques Artwork, Visitors

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Museum guards spend untold hours gazing at the artwork in their care, so it’s unsurprising that an art critics sometimes lurks behind the name tag and the impassive expression.

Or at least that’s the assumption underlying Esopus magazine’s “Guarded Opinions,” which features an interview with a museum guard in each issue. In its spring 2008 issue, Esopus (article not available online) talks with Corcoran Gallery of Art guard Berhanu Taffa about his work. When Taffa took the Corcoran job four years ago, he dreaded the long days on his feet. Then he started following docent-led tours and reading about various art movements. With new exhibitions opening every three or four months, Taffa has frequent opportunities to study new pieces. “Other than the standing, it’s a really great place,” says Taffa. 

Claude Monet’s Willows of Vetheuilis one of Taffa’s favorite pieces in the Corcoran’s permanent collection. “I guess if you had an extensive knowledge of art, you could say, ‘I like the way he uses his brush here,’ or talk about the texture, that kind of thing,” says Taffa. But it doesn’t take a formal art education for Taffa to enjoy Willows. “I can almost picture myself with the artist, sitting next to him as he’s painting. It makes me feel peaceful, independent.” 

Taffa can’t lose himself in his reverie too deeply, though, since misbehaving visitors abound. “People always try to touch the art,” says Taffa. “They know the rules, they know they shouldn’t, but they do it anyway.” 

Image by Charlotte Claeson, licensed under Creative Commons.

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