Professor Lisa Anne Auerbach Changes Perceptions of Museum Guards During UCLA Hammer Residency
Photo credit: UCLA Hammer Museum
A museum residency project that Assistant Professor of Art Lisa Anne Auerbach has been working on since last spring is currently on display at the UCLA Hammer Museum—but not on the walls. Her project, United We Stand, considers the role of guards in museums and the physically taxing nature of the job. After training as a security guard and working shifts in the galleries, Auerbach wanted to give the guards a voice, replacing the guards’ uniform blazers with ones that feature a slogan on the back related to standing. Each guard selected their own phrase, which was rendered on the back of the blazer in each guard’s handwriting in sequins. The guards are wearing the blazers through the end of April.
“Museum guards occupy a complicated space within the museum structure. Their job requires them to be visible as a presence to assure correct behavior on the part of the visitor, but they also need to fade into the walls so as not to be too much of a distraction,” says Auerbach, who notes that museum visitors often don’t know whether to acknowledge or ignore guards. Importantly, many of her conversations with guards touched on the issue of being on one’s feet all day.
“I wanted my project to both call attention to the personality and humanity of the guard and to encourage viewers to consider one aspect of their daily experience, that of standing. At the same time, my goal was to respect the anonymity of guards who did not want to feel like they were on display and to retain what several identified as a comfortable and authoritative part of their daily uniform: the blue blazer.” Guards could choose their level of participation in the project by standing against walls and not revealing their blazer backs.
“It is my hope that this slight intervention will allow visitors the ability to understand a bit about the guard’s daily experience and personality, and to consider the guard’s role within the museum,” says Auerbach.
Some of the phrases the guards chose include "EuroStand," "World Champion Mexican Standoff," "Get Up Stand Up," "Bystander," "Understand," "Know Where You Stand," "Fight the Stand" and “Stand up! Women!” Auerbach sewed some of the phrases herself, while others were sewn by assistants like Becca Lofchie ’10.
Auerbach says the guards who participated have reacted positively to the project. “I was there on the first day that they wore the blazers and most of them seemed excited about the project and eager to show their sequins.”
And the project will have a positive effect in the future, too. The Hammer’s museum director has decided to put stools in the galleries so that guards don’t have to stand all day. “I do like the idea that a project about standing can produce a change in the day-to-day experience of the guards on a more long-term basis.”
As for Auerbach’s experience as a guard, a highlight for her was the ability to commune with art for entire days. “It was amazing to spend an entire day in a room of Paul Thek's work. I feel an intimacy with the particular drawings and sculptures there that I didn't have before. When I look at images of that work, I feel like I'm seeing old friends.”
Auerbach teaches photography classes at Pomona College. She is known for creating small publications, politically charged knitted sweaters and banners, and photographs of overlooked landmarks. She is the recipient of a 2007 California Community Foundation Fellowship for Visual Artists, a 2009 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, and is represented by Gavlak Gallery in Palm Beach, Florida. For more information, visit http://lisaanneauerbach.com/.
Auerbach’s project was part of the Hammer Museum’s Public Engagement program, which seeks to create a new kind of interactive museum through an artist-driven visitor engagement program. Previously in 2009, Assistant Professor of Art Mark Allen’s art collective Machine Project inaugurated the program with musical performances, a two-day participatory festival based on early 1970s self-actualization, a houseplant vacation space, which included performances, among other events.