Continuing our labor-themed Summer Session, today we direct you to an excerpt from Fred Wilson‘s audio guide to his sculpture Guarded View for the Whitney Museum of American Art. The artist says, “When I was in college, had been a guard for our college museum. While this was not a major experience, it was something that stayed with me a very long time. And I always thought that I would make an artwork about that experience, and Guarded View turned out to be that artwork.”

Fred Wilson. Guarded View, 1991. Sculpture, dimensions variable.Fred Wilson. Guarded View, 1991. Sculpture, dimensions variable.

“When you’re a guard, you are, kind of, on display like everything else. You’re standing there, you’re silent, people walk by you, but unlike the artwork, you are invisible. And that tension between the two is what really intrigued me and really made me want to make the work. On top of that, this work was really about having been to museums, going to museums for years, and noting that besides myself and the guards, and perhaps, the people in the food service or the maintenance, you know, we were the only African-Americans or people of color in the museum. And no one in the professional staff, who decides what gets put on display, how those things get described and discussed, what’s acquired by the museum—to me that was also very much a part of why I did this piece. I’ve had museum guards tell me that the people in the professional staff who worked side-by-side with them for thirty years, would walk in the in morning and not even say hello. And so, this piece was not only to make them visible for the visiting public, but also for the museum professionals as well.”

Listen to the complete audio here.