A look into the NYC art museum security guards who are artists too, by Gentle Cowboys

‘’I try not to be intimidated by my surroundings in The Met,” says the artist and guard Fabian Beranbaum, who features in new short Osmosis. “They all had a creative point-of-view, and I do as well.’’

14 December 2022


Across institutions like The Met and The Noguchi Museum, several security guards clock off from their shift, go home and make art. Creative collective Gentle Cowboys tells some of those stories with Osmosis, a film which since launching in November this year, has been viewed nearly 33,000 times, appeared on Vimeo Staff Picks and bought exposure to a selection of artists who have been working at their craft for years.

The three-minute short explores the double lives of a number of guards at NYC’s most prestigious art museums. But the story of Osmosis began earlier, with a chat between a Met security guard on shift and a museum visitor. Gentle Cowboys, which produced and created the film, says that friend and fellow creative Gabriel Sehringer struck up a conversation with the guard and found out that “a bunch” of the security guards were artists too. “That gave him the idea for the project. He told us about the idea and we jumped right in.” Since then, the New York collective has been connecting with guards-cum-artists all across the city, receiving permissions from museums like The Met to film inside, even setting up an exhibition at Art Cake Brooklyn to show the work of 15 security guards who are painters, photographers, sculptors and multimedia artists.


Gentle Cowboys: Osmosis (Copyright © Gentle Cowboys, 2022)

The practices unearthed within Osmosis are broad. There’s Emilie Lemakis, who has worked as a security guard for 25 years and has been making art her entire life. “Since her work is mostly about her life, her ‘guard’ side appears a lot in her artwork,” Gentle Cowboys says. In fact, the artist received attention this March for work which pushed for pay transparency at The Met through inch-and-a-quarter buttons which display the wearer’s wage.

“She’s also curiously willed her artwork to The Met,” says Gentle Cowboys. The collective explains that Emilie has previously stated: “I'll put together a portfolio of 20 of those pieces and have it sealed up. And so when I pass away, you know, the lawyer or whoever it’s going to be dealing with my estate will bring it to them and say, this has been donated to you, and if they reject it, I’ll be dead. So it won’t hurt.”


Gentle Cowboys: Osmosis (Copyright © Gentle Cowboys, 2022)

Subjects within Osmosis also include Afesha Wilkins, Deborah A. Meyer, Fabian Berenbaum, Joé Ortega, Maraya Lopez (aka Berdscarnival), Maria Cabrera Nogales, Maura Falfán and Shamysia Waterman (aka MUTANT). “Fabian Beranbaum was born in Buenos Aires Argentina in 1974,” says Gentle Cowboys. “He moved to the United States at the age of eight and started working as a security guard in 1999.” He continued to work at The Met while working towards an MFA at Queens college, when he requested that his main assignment be in European Painting so he could “stay close to the masters”. Gentle Cowboys adds: “With time he ended up becoming masterful himself, at least in our opinion. His oil paintings evoke so much detail and emotion, they are truly stunning.”

Gentle Cowboys pulls apart all kinds of preconceptions with its latest pro-bono project. One is the concept that constant time spent around masters of your craft must lead to comparison, and artistic ruin. In the words of Fabian: “’Of course I’m inspired by pieces like Fish Market by Joachim Beuckelaer, but I don’t view any of the artists hanging on the walls as untouchable. They all had a creative point-of-view, and I do as well.’’


Gentle Cowboys: Osmosis (Copyright © Gentle Cowboys, 2022)

Another stereotype Osmosis subverts is the notion of who an artist and guard must be. Gentle Cowboys came into the project feeling like “the most interesting thing about these artists who are guards is this idea of duality.” (This is a clear visual hook throughout the film, with the collective jumping between ‘versions’ of its subjects through a number of techniques.) Though ultimately, Gentle Cowboys shows that these elements are linked. “Mostly, we wanted to make the two roles feel so close together that it makes dual lives appear as one.”

The collective concludes: “It’s one of those things, when you see a security guard you have these preconceived notions of who and what they are. Maybe they’re tough, or some kind of stickler, which in most cases isn’t true, it’s just a job. So we really wanted to find creative ways to show each person as a guard and as an artist, side by side. It felt like a very powerful thing to do, it almost instantly shatters preconceptions of who this person is, and we quickly discover who they really are.”

GalleryGentle Cowboys: Osmosis (Copyright © Gentle Cowboys, 2022)

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Gentle Cowboys: Osmosis (Copyright © Gentle Cowboys, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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