from the LA Times
Guns guard Damien Hirst’s lamb at BCAM
Mel Melcon, Los Angeles Times
ART GUARD: BCAM uses armed guards to protect its treasures, including “Away from the Flock,” by Damien Hirst.
Armed security is not common at museums. But at LACMA, a formaldehyde work raises safety concerns.
As you stroll through the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, images of guns confront you, including Andy Warhol’s hip-swiveling, gun-slinging “Elvis,” Chris Burden’s Los Angeles policemen and the gun-brandishing fascist thugs of Leon Golub. And there are other armed men at BCAM.
On a recent day, at least three security officers with holstered guns and batons guarded the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art addition. One carries a 9-millimeter pistol. Another, armed with a .38-caliber pistol, is assigned to stand a few feet in front of an artwork with a dead lamb, embalmed in a tank filled with formaldehyde and water, created by British artist Damien Hirst.
The current guard in front of the Hirst piece has been there about a month, guards say, noting the potential for vandals to smash the tank and create a toxic leak. BCAM was evacuated for about an hour in April when a drop of formaldehyde about the size of a quarter leaked from the Hirst work, which is called “Away From the Flock.” Another museum spokeswoman said that a change in barometric pressure was responsible and that a conservator had resealed the case.
In a world of sensational art heists, armed guards at museums filled with priceless works might not seem surprising. “The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s emblematic “Skrik” of existential angst, went back on display at the Munch Museum in Oslo this month after being stolen in 2004 and recovered, with some damage, in 2006. In the last 20 years, vandals have urinated on a Marcel Duchamp urinal at the Tate Modern, vomited on Mondrian’s “Composition in Black, Red and White” at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and poured black ink into the formaldehyde encasing a Damien Hirst lamb at London’s Serpentine Gallery.
“Several museums feel that the risk of a shootout, where many of the public may be hurt, is a bigger concern,” Hall wrote in an e-mail. “They would rather have the police respond. Some institutions face risks, though, where they feel they need armed officers as a deterrent, and to protect visitors and staff. . . . Risk varies, from location to location.”
‘A kind of paranoia’
One LACMA visitor, Laura Silagi, a Venice artist, said she first noticed the armed guard in front of the Hirst piece a few weeks ago. “I’ve never in my life seen armed guards in a museum,” she said. “It interferes with an art experience. There’s a kind of paranoia attached to it.”
Inside BCAM, one armed guard is stationed in front of Hirst’s white lamb, entombed in a glass case that shows some condensation at the top.
Nearby is a device marked “Formaldehyde monitoring” and “Do not touch,” with instructions to call the number for the “Conservation Center” with any questions. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies formaldehyde as a probable carcinogen, with immediate respiratory risks.
“Some crazy guy could smash it with a hammer, and the formaldehyde would spill all over the floor, and it could take two weeks to clean up,” the guard, who declined to give his name, said of the Hirst work.
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