Stanford, Calif.—“Guardians: Photographs by Andy Freeberg” opens July 25 at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University. The exhibition, which remains on view through January 6, 2013, presents 16 critically acclaimed portraits of art museum guards in contemporary Russia as they protect treasured paintings and sculptures in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Andy Freeberg is a San Francisco-based photojournalist whose assignments for magazines such as Fortune, Time and Sports Illustrated have taken him across the world.
The 16 “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. One woman wore a sweater trimmed with the same blue that Henri Matisse used in the painting she sat below, Still Life with Blue Tablecloth. Another sat cross-armed, her bare forearms as muscular and pale as those in the Michelangelo plaster casts around her. The photographs emphasize how the women become part of the visitor’s overall museum experience.
Hoping to remain inconspicuous, Freeberg used a small 35-millimeter digital camera (Canon Eos 5D) and available light. He sized his resulting prints as wide as five feet, nearly life-size, so that viewers might feel they were actually in a museum with the women. The layout of the Center’s exhibition furthers this museum-within-a-museum experience. The 16 works on loan from the artist 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.
In response to “Guardians: Photographs by Andy Freeberg,” the Center is also featuring “Guards on Film: Andy Freeberg and Cantor Arts Center Security Staff” in a third gallery. Curated by Josie Johnson, Stanford class of ’13, the project presents new photographs by Freeberg of the Cantor Arts Center security staff. Additionally, in a short documentary film produced by Justin Warren, Stanford class of ’09, the guards discuss the nature of their work in the galleries.