Arms Lengths Away

Please stay two arms-lengths away from the art!

Her rebuke cuts the air, rising above the appreciative hum of the art connoisseurs around us. The only ones remotely close to her, we look up from where we stand, and reflexively take a step backwards, away from the statue that stretches into the air above our heads.

Two arms? He says, next to me, as I spread my arms to my sides, demonstrating with my wingspan the required distance between art and observer. On the other side of the statue, her hands tucked loosely into her pressed black pants, the woman nods.

I’ll tell you a trick, she offers, gesturing with a strong hand in the general direction of the piece. The circle of the spotlight falls about two arms-lengths around the art on each side. So if you’re looking from just outside of the spotlight, you’re good!  She nods again, then, suddenly, she glances around the wide studio space, occupied only by three larger-than-life statues depicting a boy at various ages and stages of development. We step away, moving slowly towards the information plaque on the wall, yards beyond the spotlight’s forbidden circle. Please stay two arms-lengths away! She repeats, this time to a man whose white hair has receded into a half moon around his scalp.

But we’ve barely turned away when she addresses us again. It’s the same boy, she says. He sculpted the same boy at three, at five or six, and then here, in this one, he’s 12. Unsure if we should turn back and fully engage with her, and careful of giving offense by leaving our odd, lopsided conversation, we hover for a moment between the statue and the wall. She tells us more about the statue; it’s clothing, the attitude and emotion the artist intended to convey. We nod, listen, learn from this unexpected museum guard art lesson.

As I listen, it occurs to me to wonder if the museum staff rotates throughout the building. I vaguely question my assumption that each post, each doorway-standing personnel, changed throughout the museum each day. Does she know this much about each piece here? The question forms in the back of my mind. And then, further, If not, what is it about this particular exhibit that so captivates her? 

Even though the afternoon has been spent in the time-suspended hush of the art-laden halls, I know that barely three minutes have passed since we inadvertently stepped inside the spotlight’s forbidden glow. Three minutes and we’re three people here, separated by a ten-foot statue of a 7th grader, and strangely- but not uncomfortably- disarmed by the guard who teaches, who speaks. Yet even as she speaks, monologuing her presentation with gentle intonation, she glances around the room, interrupting herself, almost apologetically, to tell others to step back, move away, don’t get too close.

And then, as suddenly as the interaction began, it ends. Something beyond this gallery, something or someone in the space beyond the doorway, has caught her attention, and she excuses herself, smiling almost regretfully, and steps out of the room.

The echo of her steps tap purposefully, but not harshly, out of the cavernous room, and we’re left there, reading a plaque of information we already know, and thinking about the way there are a million rules and a million reasons to stay two arms-lengths away, but every person here, every heart around, just wants to speak- and to be heard.



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Grandma S.
    Jul 11, 2015 @ 08:33:45

    As soon as she left you should have moved within ONE arm’s length away. Or is this just Grandma being a bad influence again?


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