Museum of Contemporary Art employees curate show

“Inside Job” is an exhibit of staff selections from the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art collection. (David Minton/Progress Staff Photographer)

Working at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art has its perks. 

The museum asked its employees in its various departments earlier this year to select an artwork from its permanent collection for an exhibition titled “Inside Job: Staff Selections from the SMoCA Collection.”

“In the past couple of years, there’s been a move to make museums a little more accessible and inclusive. Part of that is including community voices in the exhibitions, on the labels, and providing that first-person perspective,” explained Charlotte Quinney, Scottsdale Arts Learning & Innovation campus engagement coordinator.

“There’s also been a recent move to include not just the curatorial voice, but the staff members from a larger museum or the arts organization so, we thought it would be great to include several of our staff members to select works from the museum’s permanent collection.” 

Quinney gave employees the criteria of finding two-dimensional works, and they picked out works from famed artists like Fritz Scholder, Salvador Dalí, and Keith Haring out of a collection of nearly 2,000 works. 

“People selected from the permanent collection and then connected either personally or professionally to that artwork,” Quinney said.

“So, some people tell stories directly related to their job and their experiences in the organization and then other people draw from childhood memories, and connections to music, film, and literature that they’re interested in.” 

This was evidenced by Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art protection services officer Luis Sandoval’s selection of a painting of a mustached man posing with a grinning abstract cat. It reminded him of the covers of albums recorded by the jazz outfit The Rippingtons. 

“I played keyboards for 22 years and I was always the joker in the bands I was in. I also love animals so when I saw this piece, I thought ‘it just suits me,’” Sandoval said. 

Sandoval wasn’t the only employee who picked a piece because of a personal connection to it.

Lead protection services officer Brenda Kelley selected a Salvador Dalí piece called “Aquarius” because that is her birth sign. 

Though she was initially intrigued by the name of the piece, Kelley thought that having this piece on display could ignite new conversations around the famed artist. 

“When it’s most people’s first time in a museum, they may have heard the name but they may not have seen any of his work. So, I’m hoping that it exposes them to older contemporary art,” Kelley said. 

Others wanted to introduce a taste of an older generation of art into a contemporary museum.

Protection services officer Lane Honda selected a black and white drawn lithograph that had a similar aesthetic to the paintings he crafts during his spare time. 

“So, contemporary art for me is like pizza where everybody has a favorite and I kind of gravitate towards something a little less contemporary, a little bit more traditional,” Honda said, adding:

“I did my art education in eastern New Mexico and I paint in black and white, so that was kind of a draw and I enjoyed the torque, the motion, the feel, and the simplicity of just a black and white sketch.” 

However, perhaps the exhibition’s most eye-catching and provocative work is a photo piece picked out by protection services coordinator Michael Hammerand that depicts a distressed young man in a phone booth. 

“(I was) looking through the collection and it stopped me in my tracks because it was everyday life,” Hammerand said. 

Not only did this photo strike Hammerand due to its essence of reality, but it also reminded him of his day-to-day duties at the museum. 

“When I’m in the galleries it’s like I’m in my little bubble but I’m also aware of my surroundings like the gentleman is in his glass phone booth,” Hammerand said. 

Hammerand also loved the ambiguity of the photo since the context of it is unknown. 

“It also leaves you with a bunch of questions like ‘who›s he talking to? And is he given bad news?’” Hammerand said. “I love anything that makes you question what’s going on whether it’s good or bad or whether you like it or not, it gets a dialogue started.” 

Hammerand and others hope that this exhibition will start a dialogue about future collaborative exhibitions. 

“I’ve been here (for) over 10 years and it was nice, not just for our department, but for anybody who works here to get a choice or get a chance to participate in it,” Hammerand said. 

The exhibition also gave museumgoers an introspective into the personalities of the employees of Scottsdale Art. 

“I just like the idea that the museum is a good steward to the members and can express some of its (employees) special likes in the art world,” Honda said, “This is a nice opening introduction to showing that art has a wider base rather than just selecting certain artists.” 

If you go:

Inside Job: Staff Selections from the SMoCA Collection.

When: On display during museum hours until April 30, 2023

Where: Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 E. 2nd St. Cost: Tickets start at $12

Info: Smoca.org

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