As a student who had visited MoMA many times before, I felt confident that everything I was about to witness during the Cross-Museum Collective’s tour of MoMA’s security system, I probably already knew. To my pleasant surprise, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The MoMA security staff is made up of a small army of security officers all devoted to protecting the art. Along with this entourage of people patrolling the Museum, every room in the galleries has security cameras monitoring the collection—there are several hundred cameras throughout the facility that are monitored by security personnel 24 hours, seven days a week.
Although to my disappointment, I was informed that in the history of MoMA, never had a work of art been stolen. It was for just this reason that I was so interested in the security of the Museum. I hadn’t intended to become an art thief, but the idea had always fascinated me, due to the fact that it would require quite a bit of skill to get past security, keep the art from becoming damaged, and eventually selling works of art on the metaphorical “black market.” All skills that people seldom associate with the common criminal. As LJ Hartman, the director and head of security, gave us a basic rundown of the security going on in the galleries, many of us asked about specific devices or strategies by which the pieces are protected. While all of the collection is under the watchful eye of security, special attention is often placed on pieces that are here on loan. These pieces of art are always under surveillance by a security officer, cameras, and other security devices.
In terms of absolute protection however, those security measures don’t even come close to the level of intensity in which technology can provide protection for the collection. Security devices for the collection range from the manner in which the item is installed to motion detection to silent and audible alarms and wireless tracking devices similar to GPS systems. There are a wide range of devices that assist in providing protection for the collection at MoMA and other cultural institutions.
If I were a criminal, my career as an art thief would have ended about a quarter of the way through my tour. Even thinking about being able to steal a piece of art seems scary. But if I, or anyone were to do so, my imagination boils it down like this:
Assuming that I can find my way into the Museum after hours, my next move is to find a way to remove a painting without setting off any sensors. For the sensor I try and cut out a layer of the wall behind it. But wait! I’ve forgotten about the motion sensors bordering the walls, and my saw has made too much noise! Maybe if I’m quick enough I could run out, maybe even with only this one piece? There is no way out until morning, I should have thought of that. I guess I’ll just be locked in here until I’m taken away to be locked up somewhere else. Might as well try and enjoy this art as much as I can. I smile at the camera, hiding my regret, saying, “Thank you LJ.”
And so ends my hypothetical career as an art thief, and a lengthy incarceration, due to my lack of skill, planning, and knowledge. But let us certainly not forget that what really keeps MoMA safe are the men and women that work day and night to protect the artwork that gives the Museum life.This week, every post on Inside/Out is created by participants in the MoMA + MoMA PS1 Cross-Museum Collective, a behind-the-scenes program for teenage alumni of our In the Making studio-art classes. Over the course of the 16-week project, the participating teens work with educators, curators, security staff, conservators, and other Museum staff to gain hands-on experience across a number of fields. In addition, they create collaborative artwork with a range of contemporary artists. More info can be found HERE and HERE. Info on our 2014 free summer art courses for teens is available now.