Okay, we all agree that museums need to safeguard their work. (Obvious example — the Munch Museum in Oslo wasn’t doing enough in that line when The Scream was stolen in 2004. Since getting it back — damaged — they’ve bolted it to a wall and installed security gates.) But I was a little surprised to learn last weekend from the Los Angeles Times that BCAM — the Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art — has armed guards with guns displayed openly on their belts. So was the Times‘ critic Christopher Knight, who paid a visit recently to see what museum going is like in close proximity to live ammunition.
It’s hard to imagine almost any scenario in which an art museum guard might shoot someone, but that bizarre thought keeps bumping around in your brain at BCAM. Needless to say, it has a less than salutary effect on the art experience.
A LACMA spokeswoman told the Times that armed guards “have always been part of the museum’s security plan.” One of them is assigned to stand watch over one of Damien Hirst’s pickled beasts, this one a sheep in a tank of formaldehyde, apparently to discourage anybody from cracking the tank and releasing the toxic liquid. Whether they might also draw a gun on somebody who tried to scratch Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog is an interesting question.
Is the open show of firepower really necessary? I can’t think of another museum where I’ve seen anything like it. (The Times quotes an official at the Smithsonian who says that at some museums guards carry concealed weapons.) I would think that the potential for screw ups would discourage the whole idea. The thieves who stole The Scream were armed. They did it in broad daylight in a gallery full of people. Would it have been a good idea for the museum guards to engage in a shootout in a crowded room? It’s bad enough the painting was hurt. At least nobody took a bullet.
But what I really want to know is this — if we ever figure a way to get out of Iraq, does this mean those guys from Blackwater find work as docents?