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Life as a museum guard: Wazir Taniwal and Jesse Ward of the Getty

July 16, 2011 |  9:00 am

Getty
What's it like to be a museum guard? We talked with guards from MOCA, LACMA and, here, Wazir Taniwal and Jesse Ward at the Getty.

Taniwal, 66, Security guard. At the J. Paul Getty Museum almost seven years. Linguistics professor in his native Afghanistan; also taught Persian and Pashto in East Germany. Did a stint as an L.A. insurance agent before finding the Getty.

Ward, 43, Security guard. At Getty for nine years. Former tram driver at Los Angeles Zoo. Studying business management at Los Angeles Valley College.

Favorite artwork: Chandelier, Gérard-Jean Galle, 1818-19. Both Taniwal and Ward are enchanted by this fanciful chandelier, a blue lacquered world globe with a bronze band featuring the 12 signs of the zodiac. A glass bowl at the bottom was intended to hold live goldfish “whose continuous movement amuses the eye most agreeably,” according to Galle.

ChandelierSays Ward: “The chandelier transports me back to the fantasy of childhood. What is more dreamlike than a blue globe hot air balloon surrounded by the zodiac with passengers of goldfish? Artists never cease to amaze me for their imagination and ability to inspire.”

Taniwal also loves the chandelier, but remembers one snotty visitor who refused to believe the goldfish story as Taniwal recounted it to the visitor's wife. “The husband came over and said: ‘Why are you listening to him? They are security. They are stupid, they are illiterate, they don't know anything.' Straight into my eyes like that. I couldn't say anything because we are not allowed to argue … I was really sad that someone who doesn't know you would say these types of things.”

The daily double: Ward: “Though my sister was studying art conservation, I was ignorant to it …

“Every day coming to the Getty is an education. A few months ago, I was watching ‘Jeopardy!,' and I have to say I did pretty well on the art history column. Hey, I know that!”

Senior moments: Taniwal: “The group that is very difficult is 50 and above — and they should be the most smart people! The reason I am saying that is, they argue with us.

“If you say, please don't touch, they say: ‘My hands are clean, I just washed them with soap.'”

Taniwal was astonished when a woman in this age group walked over and rubbed her hand across a Gustave Courbet painting, circa 1864. “She said: ‘I just wanted to see if it was wet or
dry.' [I said] ‘ Do you think an oil painting from 1864 would still be wet?'”

A night at the museum: Ward works the 2:30-11 p.m. shift: “It's very intimate. Some of the pieces, you become friends with them, almost … “We have a chair that was actually used by Marie Antoinette, she was pregnant — not only is the chair incredible in itself, there's an actual historical context. Being in the gallery by yourself at night, you sort of feel like the energy is still attached to the object. And because the lights are dimmed … the objects really do seem to come alive.”

RELATED:

Life as a museum guard: Hylan Booker of LACMA

Life as a museum guard: Kimberly Strain of MOCA

Museum security guards: Lots of art and a little eavesdropping

-- Diane Haithman

Photos:  Wazir Taniwal, left, and Jesse Ward both like a chandelier made by Gérard-Jean Galle in France about 1818 - 1819. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times

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