Jason Eskenazi (pictured top) knows how many figures there are in the Vanderlyn panorama. As a security guard at the Met, he spent three years at the museum bored out of his mind, “So bored,” he says, that he surveyed every inch of the 165-foot painting of the Versailles garden. “And so here’s the count,” he wrote in an essay, titled “Securitology and the Art of Boredom,” “403 people, 3 dogs, and 1 butterfly.” Mr. Eskenazi recorded this observation, along with many others, in a small Moleskin notebook he carried around in his back pocket. “Standing there all day, I needed to keep my mind going,” recalls the 51-year-old documentary photographer, who took the job as a guard after a Fulbright in Russia because he needed health insurance. In addition to the Fulbright, Eskenazi also received two Guggenheims, the Dorthea Lange prize, and countless others awards before beginning at the Met as a guard.
Mr. Eskenazi, who is short with heavy eyelids, salt and pepper curls, a full beard, and fingerless gray gloves, found countless ways to occupy himself throughout his tenure at the Museum. He created a calendar of buttons to prove to himself that “each day at the museum was different”; he invented “Smart Guards,” a petition to educate the Met’s guards during off hours (he even presented the idea to management, but was “quickly shot down”); he recorded encounters, like the time he asked Tony Bennett what was his favorite piece in the museum. “Rembrandt’s self-portraits,” said Bennett, flipping the question back on Eskenazi. When Eskenazi shared his favorite painting, “The Creation of the Universe,” Bennett replied, “I didn’t know you guards were so smart.”
Eskenazi began to collect data from the other guards. “OK,” he would begin. “You’ve died and now you’re in the afterlife. God greets you and thanks you for guarding the museum for twenty years. As a reward for your good service, he will grant you one object from the museum. It could be any object. What would you choose?” Then Eskenazi gathered his 120 responses—lots of Jackson Pollack—into his Moleskin, where other tabulations, like “Things People Like to Touch” (a lot of sculptures), filled the pages.
This entire piece was full of awesome.