Life as a museum guard: Kimberly Strain of MOCA
They come from all walks of life — and spend eight hours a day (or more) on their feet. They are museum security guards, on duty to make sure that precious works of art and museum visitors have a relationship that is safe for both. Some are students; some are artists; some are retired from successful careers in other fields. What most have in common is a love of art that is lifelong or acquired on the job — and they are eager to share it with the public. Just listen to guards at three major Los Angeles museums.
First up: Kimberly Strain, 51, senior security supervisor at MOCA.
(Be sure to check back with Culture Monster on Saturday and Sunday for guards from the Getty and LACMA.)
Strain hs been with the Museum of Contemporary Art for eight years. She is the former owner of a catering firm forced out of business in the wake of 9/11.
Favorite artwork: “Wish You Were Here,” MODE 2, 2011. The large-scale wall painting by African graffiti artist MODE 2, who now lives and works in Europe, is part of MOCA's “Art in the Streets” exhibition at its Geffen Contemporary space. As a job perk, Strain got to meet this “very, very nice” artist.
“It's a beautiful pastel painting across a very wide wall — it's people at a party, and they're dancing, and everybody's eyes are closed and they're just having such a good time. And they are African American — well, not African American, but they're black — and it shows how we actually are, not just the thin, model types. It's the folks that look like me, with the bulges and the dimples and everything.”
Vexing visitors: “The most difficult part of this job is being very polite and pleasant when someone is screaming and yelling and being extremely abusive. I have to keep a smile; I have to remain professional. But I still have to try to shoo them out. We observe and report — we are not the LAPD … normally it's very pleasant, and I enjoy the patrons. I enjoy watching their reactions to certain pieces.”
Museum contributors: No, not the big-money donors — Strain means those who can't resist leaving a little something behind when they visit the galleries. “During Gorky [the 2010 Arshile Gorky retrospective] somebody left a handmade ceramic oilcan behind,” she recalls. “And during the Andy Warhol show , somebody left a pair of pink silk panties under the Marilyn Monroe picture … all of us were having a discussion: ‘Who's going to pick them up?'”
“I could do that”: What contemporary art museum visitor hasn't heard a scornful patron observe a Jackson Pollock splatter painting or an installation composed of common objects and announce: “I could do that”? Says Strain: “I just kind of shake my head. Yeah, you could do that — but you didn't. It's very easy for someone to flap their gums, but these artists are the ones who actually took the initiative, had the guts, did their thing and put it out there. Kudos to them.”
-- Diane Haithman
Photo: Kimberly Strain stands in front of “Wish You Were Here” at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times