Why armed museum guards are a bad idea

April 23 2012

From NBC:

A security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art accidentally shot himself in the leg Friday afternoon.

The FDNY said he was being transported to New York Hospital with a minor injury. Officials said he was taking his gun out of its holster in the locker room, away from the public areas, when it went off.

I was ticked off again at the National Gallery last week by a room guard - for 'looking at the pictures too closely' - and in the usual brusque manner. I'm glad he wasn't armed...

Update - a reader writes (delightfully):

Re: Armed Guards and your close encounter, when I was in the Barber Institute (Birmingham) once, peering at works with my new reading glasses (I have since progressed to varifocals) I  ventured so close to a canvas in order to focus my ailing vision that my nose touched the canvas - the guard barked out a threatening warning, embarrassing at the time but in retrospect totally over the top (imagine being charged with threatening a work of art with one's nose!). 

In Ottawa, the exhibits at the fabulous Museum of Mankind were not cordoned off when I visited years ago but had bells that sounded ear-shatteringly if one approached too closely - they sounded every other minute!  What's the answer? - obviously better spectacles (if I could only afford them!) - but the best collections use superior non-reflective glass for (their own) works that allows close viewing. Non-glassed works are often loaned canvases, and many collections cannot afford 'superior' glass. 

It reminds me of when I was once in the old Courtauld Institute galleries and watched in horror as a demonstrative lady pointed out some (presumably) strong opinion to an ignorant companion about Gauguin's sublime 'Nevermore' by punching the bare canvas several times with her forefinger so vehemently that the whole work vibrated violently in response - the room steward leapt to life from his apparent doze with a room-shattering expletive warning, that the lady (by virtue of her birth, status and wealth) hardly registered. Had that guard been armed, can you imagine the blood-letting that might have ensued?  Can you visualise the Bateman cartoon?

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.