Having been employed as a department store janitor during his freshman year of college, Charles Ray (b. 1953) understands the unease that a mannequin — an inanimate object that one might readily mistake for a live human — can inspire. Ray’s work is also charged with purely sculptural tensions that exist between surface and interior, armature and appendage and / or size and scale. With Boy (1992), Ray created a particularly disquieting figure.
Museum Guard With Sense of Humor Poses With Boy
The sculpture stands just shy of six feet tall, the artist’s exact height, yet maintains the softness of youth in its rounded cheeks and limbs. The boy is clad in outdated garments, hovering ‘between baby and Hitler youth,” in the words of one critic. Additionally, the boy’s pose and gesture suggest a confrontational manner at odds with his neutral expression.
Fred Wilson’s Guarded View (1991) aggressively confronts viewers with four black, headless mannequins dressed as museum guards. Each figure wears a uniform, dating to the early 1990s, from one of four New York cultural institutions: the Jewish Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art.
Despite this specificity, the faceless mannequins underscore the anonymity expected of security personnel, who are tasked with protecting art and the public while remaining inconspicuous. It also addresses the racial dynamics of the museum space, in which the guards may be the only people of color present.
This work originally appeared in the Whitney’s then-controversial 1994 exhibition, Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, which would prove to be a defining moment for the burgeoning movement of identity politics.