Who will watch the watchers?

“Guard Art” gives usually silent functionaries a chance to express themselves.

by Katrina Wilber

When the cat’s away, the mice will play.

Hopefully, three local art institutions have a back-up plan for keeping burglars and grimy fingers away from their masterpieces while the staff switches roles. “Guard Art,” an exhibit at the Stevens Square Center for the Arts, features over 50 works by security guards from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Weisman Art Museum and the Walker Art Center. However, none of these institutions are sponsoring this show.

The styles of the artwork are as varied as the subjects. Oil paintings, acrylics, photographs and mixed media show firefighters, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a house gate, but not in the same picture.

Three works by Drew Chial take ordinary idioms and tweak them. The focus of “Here Come the Waterworks” is a human head, but instead of hair, a series of pipelines representing hair leads to the area where the eyes should be.

“Tongue Tied” plays with the mundane in a similar fashion. A man in a suit stands front and center, but his tongue stretches around him in place of a necktie.

Jeff Weispfenning used field trip remnants to create his artwork. “No Child Left Behind” is a collage of name tags from elementary and high school museum patrons and their chaperones. Some are tipped sideways, while others face frontward. Some are plain ‘Hi my name isĂ–’ name tags, but others are decorated with school buses and dinosaurs.

“Lost and Found” is a collection of 100 items left behind at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Museum patrons have lost many random things, from safety pins and hair barrettes to brand name lighters and diary keys. Nothing is off limits for this piece; a wing nut and a ballpoint pen’s spring are among the oddments displayed. The piece resides in a plain shadow box, and the simplicity of the framing draws the eye to what is inside rather than what is holding it together.

A reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvius Man” by Simon Stomberg takes up an entire wall at the gallery. One of da Vinci’s most famous works, it is considered a near-perfect representation of the human body and is seen on notebooks, mouse pads and coffee mugs in gift shops around the world. Stomberg’s photographic piece looks like a photo of a single man from far away, but a closer look reveals the piece is constructed of pictures of many different men.

No doubt some museum guards wander past masterpieces every day without gleaning a single creative thought. But as this show’s content proves, it pays to consider what you drop and who is watching you while you attend places of culture. You never know if your junk might become someone else’s art.