Monday, April 12, 2010

Tactile Art

The Art Gallery of Ontario has a massive permanent collection of impressive works of art. It is a museum comparable to any of the best in North America. In 2008 an exciting new redesign was completed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, and was received with international acclaim. The Galleria Italia, is particularly interesting with its long display area which is an extended enclosed facade area crafted of curved laminated wooden beams and glass which runs the entire length of the north side of the gallery. The museum has an extensive Group of Seven collection and many many contemporary works worth seeing. The collection of older works of art is a treat to come back again and again to explore.

The whole delightful experience is a primarily a visual one. Priceless works of art can not be touched unfortunately. There are signs in strategic places to remind the public of this fact. The hands have to be content to imagine what everything feels like. It is hard to resist touching some of a new exhibit of artist Wangechi Mutu's evocative multi-media collages with their complex layers of painted and decorative fabric intricately blended together with photo images of the human body.

Now and then a special gallery show may display some works where the public is invited to 'touch', but in most cases it's the artwork that does all the touching, not the other way around. And while this is legitimate and understandable, it does leave me wondering. What if it weren't just the eyes that informed the mind at an art gallery, but that if we could learn from the hands too. What if the fingers were allowed to follow the contours and textures of the artwork displayed. Imagine if the hands were free to feel with the same freedom the eyes are allowed to see. A wax resist, a complex tapestry form, a welded metal edge, the roundness of a wooden sphere, a sudden contrast of paint textures, a curiously feathery shaped object , the bends in a wire frame sculpture: these all would tell more of a creative story. They could only inspire the imagination more. The sensation of art would be more well-rounded.

There was one very tactile element in the room where the Muto exhibit was being shown. Bullet holes. They were all over the walls. These were actually random puncture holes in the plaster surface, some of them extending deeper into the concrete sub wall. They were tinted red for extra effect. It gave an extra dimension to the already disturbing element of the paintings hanging on these same walls. My daughter and I put our fingers into several of these ragged holes. Nobody ran over and stopped us.

I think I would have preferred to be exploring more positive things with my hands like interesting stone cavities and niche recesses of randomly stacked stone walls upon which the art work was actually hung, instead, but Im feeling that Mr Goldsworthy may have already come up with that idea.

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