In the art museums of Russia, women sit in the galleries and guard the collections. When you look at the paintings and sculptures, the presence of the women becomes an inherent part of viewing the artwork itself. I found the guards as intriguing to observe as the pieces they watch over.
In conversation they told me how much they like being among Russia’s great art. A woman in Moscow’s State Tretyakov Gallery Museum said she often returns there on her day off to sit in front of a painting that reminds her of her childhood home. Another guard travels three hours each day to work, since at home she would just sit on her porch and complain about her illnesses, “as old women do.” She would rather be at the museum enjoying the people watching, surrounded by the history of her country.
— Andy Freeberg
An exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University in California, presents 16 of Freeberg's critically acclaimed portraits of art museum guards in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Andy Freeberg is a San Francisco-based fine-art photographer and photojournalist whose assignments for magazines such as Fortune, Time and Sports Illustrated have taken him across the world.
The Guardian photographs came about when Freeberg traveled to Russia in 2008 intending to document the country's evolution since his last visit in the 1980s. But once there, Freeberg focused his lens on the retirement-aged women guarding Russia’s national treasures in the art museums. Freeberg discovered that despite sitting for hours and earning little pay, the women loved their jobs; they were deeply proud of Russia’s culture and felt honored to protect and share its treasures. He was struck by how the guards unconsciously resembled and complemented the objects in their care.
The layout of the Center’s exhibition furthers this museum-within-a-museum experience. The works are installed in two galleries according to the style of the art in the photographs, so they fit seamlessly in with the surrounding works from the Center’s collection.
On view through January 6, 2013. Free.