John Singer Sargent, Jackson Pollock and Mary Cassatt are just a few of the thousands of great artists that can be found in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s two-million-square-foot building on Fifth Avenue in the Upper East Side. Now known as “The Met,” it is the largest art museum in the country.
Among the halls of grand paintings and ancient sculptures, there are also many aspiring and active artists that are there to keep a watchful eye on the precious works of art. They are the security guards that patrol from room to room, often only speaking up when visitors get too close to the Renoirs and van Goghs.
The Met’s security department employs over 500 security and safety officers, and over 100 guards can be found in the open galleries and exhibitions throughout the day. Every morning, a guard reports to their dispatcher who assigns them to a section of the museum and tells them what group of guards they’ll be rotating shifts with. Some have sections they prefer, like John, who, that day, happened to be assigned to The American Wing which he “particularly enjoys.”
John only wanted to share his first name, but said that the “five years that [he] has worked at The Met has been, overall, a positive experience.” As a working artist himself, his interest in art before he took this job is the main reason that he enjoys it so much. A memorable moment that he recounts was being on duty when Woody Allen was there last October to shoot a film. Or, during a special event a few years ago, when the President of Spain wandered into a closed-off section and guards rushed to escort him back to the party.
Another guard and working photographer, Esteban Abdala, also recounted a special memory from his year and a half of working at the museum: “One time, a guy asked me to take photos of him and his girlfriend in front of one of the sculptures… in a minute, the guy moved from a painting to the sculpture, then got on his knee and brought out a ring.” Once he realized what was happening, Abdala quickly began taking a video. “I was able to record a very beautiful thing for them.”
Unfortunately for Abdala, who just recently moved to the United States from Colombia, his experience has not always been positive. “One bad thing is I get a lot of racism. There are a lot of people that say nasty things to me. It’s a lot, recently. I’m new to the country, I’ve only been in the States for three years now, three and a half years. I think recently I have been feeling more people say nasty things to me.”
On an average day, almost 4,500 locals and tourists visit The Met, meaning Abdala encounters many people from all over the world. Being from another country, he feels that the culture in the U.S. is much different. “Here in the States, I don’t know if it’s part of the culture but people don’t come to you and say ‘good morning,’ ‘excuse me’ or anything like that. They just come and yell at you ‘bathroom?’ or they say something and they expect you to run to them. Manners is something I think is getting lost here.”
He also said that despite liking art, he does not actually enjoy being assigned to the galleries. “I like to be busy… I like to check coats. When you are in the same gallery a lot over time, the first day is nice because you spend your day in between looking at the art and learning something but then if you’re in the same place for many days it’s just the same. I’m a very active person so I like to keep moving around everyday and also in a busy place where I can speak with people.”
Even though he works here, Abdala still finds himself coming to The Met in his free time. It’s a benefit that comes with the job. “Since you work in a museum, I think all museums give you that perk, you get free access to other museums in the city.”
Both John and Abdala are artists in their spare time, a reality for many of the guards currently employed at The Met. They each expressed their love for art. For them, and the hundreds of other people that work around the museum, their jobs is a means of surrounding themselves with art every day.