Fred Wilson

Guarded View
1991

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Not on view

Fred Wilson’s Guarded View aggressively confronts viewers with four black headless mannequins dressed as museum guards. Each figure wears a uniform, dating to the early 1990s, from one of four New York City cultural institutions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Despite this specificity, the faceless mannequins underscore the anonymity expected of security personnel, who are tasked with protecting art and the public while remaining inconspicuous and out of view. Wilson himself worked as a museum guard in college, and explained: “[There’s] something funny about being a guard in a museum. You’re on display but you’re also invisible.” He challenges this dynamic by placing these ordinarily unnoticed figures at the center of our attention, pointing to the hidden power relations and social codes that structure our experience of museums. Wilson’s inanimate guards themselves become sculpture—figures that we are meant to observe but are incapable of observing us.

Artist
Fred Wilson

Title
Guarded View

Date
1991

Classification
Sculpture

Medium
Wood, paint, steel and fabric

Dimensions
Dimensions variable

Accession number
97.84a-d

Credit line
Gift of the Peter Norton Family Foundation

Rights and reproductions information
© Fred Wilson, courtesy Pace Gallery



Audio

  • America Is Hard to See

    Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991

    Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991

    0:00

    Fred Wilson: I was invited by the Museum to give a tour of the exhibitions that they had on at that moment. I told them that I wasn't a scholar. But I went to visit the Museum and I realized there were things I had to say about it. And they thought that was a great idea. so, I had lunch with the staff in the Museum, and then I said, "Okay, excuse me. I'm going to change into my costume and I'm going to meet you in the galleries by the sign that says "Fred Wilson speaks at 2 pm."

    I changed into a guard's uniform and stood by my sign. And then a few minutes later, they all came downstairs and stood around in front of me waiting for me to show up. Literally, just, you know, just sort of relaxing, waiting for me to show up, right in front of me. And then, I said, "Well, okay, let's get this thing going." And, of course, the people that I'd known for a long time, were embarrassed. 

    And this group followed me around. Of course, this was kind of interesting for the public to see a guard speaking in art historical terms and critiquing the exhibition. And then the guards came off their station to hear me do this, and every once in a while, they'd say things like, "I always wanted to say that about that artwork, you know.”

  • America Is Hard to See, Kids

    Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991

    Fred Wilson, Guarded View, 1991

    0:00

    Narrator: These mannequins are wearing actual uniforms that were worn in the early 1990s by real guards at four New York Museums: the Jewish Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney, and the Museum of Modern Art. (You’ll see that the guards here wear different clothes today.

    The uniforms may be easily identifiable, but the faceless, headless figures of the security guards are totally anonymous. They only have one identifying feature, their brown skin.

    The artist, Fred Wilson, also worked as a museum guard in college. He remembers how strange it was—people mostly ignored him. He once said, “You’re on display, just like everything else. But, unlike the artwork, you’re invisible.”

    This installation reflects a belief that no person should be ignored or treated like they are invisible—not because of their job, and not because of their race.



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