One day, a blind man discovered a screw painting by Andrew Myers with his hands. The blind man found as much enjoyment out of the tactile elements of the work as any sighted person ever has by just looking at them. Andrew considers this moment as one of the most inspiring of his career. This led him to a question: Why is touching artwork so taboo?
Prior to the mid-1800s, tactile interaction was commonplace for visitors experiencing collections of art, but as museums of art evolved, rules forbidding touch became the norm. In some cases, these were to protect artwork that truly was not meant to be touched, but in large part these norms had nothing do with preservation and everything to do with nineteenth century politics of gender, race and class control.
In light of all this, Cantor Fine Art, a just-launched gallery by father and son team Larry and Sam Cantor, offers a story of a different kind of physical interaction with art in their project, Please Touch the Art. They partnered with artist Andrew Myers to create a tactile painting that is appreciable by both sighted and blind art lovers.
Working with Andrew Myers, they surprised George Wurtzel, an incredibly talented blind woodworker based in the Enchanted Hills camp for the visually impaired in Napa, California, with a tactile portrait of himself – the first portrait he was able to feel and recognize. This sculpture took about 2 months to complete. It has roughly 4,000 screws in it.
Currently, George is converting an old grape crushing barn into a Tactile Art Center. The top floor of the building is his 1900 sq. ft. woodworking shop. The bottom floor will be a tactile gallery space where visually impaired can experience and sell artwork.
Larry and Sam Cantor carefully packed the sculpture and started the long drive from Andrew’s studio up to the mountains above Napa. Then, they snuck into George’s future gallery and hung the portrait for him to discover. As he experienced this for the first time (and between bursts of laughter) he kept repeating the phrase, “Mind boggling.”
“Not every piece of art needs to or should be touched… But perhaps it’s time we took a look at how pervasive and mandatory our “no touching” rules really are – it might help everyone see artwork a little differently,“ say Larry and Sam.
all images and video courtesy of Cantor Fine Art