It is almost an understatement to say that Thursday evenings in Chelsea tend to be hurried. With a flurry of art events and gallery openings, throngs of gallery-goers rush in and out of exhibits. With a photography series “Guardians,” photographer Andy Freeberg invites the viewers to slow down and pause for a moment.
Stepping into the Andrea Meislin Gallery, Freeberg’s large-scale prints transport its visitors to four of Russia’s prominent museums – the Hermitage and the Russian State Museum in St. Petersburg, and the Pushkin Museum and State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. A closer look at each print will reveal that the focus is not on the famed institutions nor its treasured art works, but rather, on the retirement-aged women whose job is to watch over the works in the museums: the Guardians.
New York City native Andy Freeberg is a keen observer of environments, with recent works depicting the art world as a place where art and people co-exist. After photographing reception desks of Chelsea galleries in Sentry, and the booths of art dealers at international fairs in Art Fare, Freeberg traveled to Russia in 2008.
Freeberg’s intention was to document Russia’s evolution since his last visit in the 1980s, but instead, he found himself intrigued by the women guarding the art works in museums. Unable to separate his experience of the art from his experience of the place, Freeberg took out his 35-millimeter camera and quietly captured these women.
Filmmaker and human rights advocate Roberto Monticello at Andrea Meislin Gallery. Photo: Steph Ziemann
The photographs invite the viewer to enjoy the museums as Freeberg did – taking in not only the painting or sculpture, but also the relationship between the work of art and its guardian. In “Konchalovsky’s Family Portrait, State Tretyakov Gallery” (2008) the guard is seated politely in a single wooden chair, as if she is waiting for the family meal. Wearing a gray two-piece suit and seated with hands folded atop her purse, she seems to belong in the dining room of the family portrait. Freeberg’s portraits capture a sense of admiration for the guardians who truly revere art around them.
Love of art
Freeberg embarked on a second visit and returned to the museums with an interpreter, curious to find out more about these women. During the conversations, he discovered that despite earning little pay, the guards loved their jobs. Some traveled for hours to arrive at the gallery, and some others explained that they enjoyed visiting the museum on their days off. Freeberg’s photos capture the sense of pride these women felt about guarding important pieces of their country’s history and culture.
Freeberg’s Russian museum experience, framed in the context of New York galleries, leads to a conscious reflection of how we experience art. Understanding the sense of pride that these women feel in proximity to masterpieces, we begin tuning into our own reactions. The guardians seem to beckon us to slow down, move closer, and pause for a moment – taking in the details we often overlook.
- Andrea Meislin Gallery – Andy Freeberg “Guardians” – January 24, 2013-March 2, 2013 – Tuesday to Saturday: 10am – 6pm [$6000 – $7500]
Article by Sewon Christina Chung