New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has introduced a novel program of assistance to individuals with special needs. Art inSight offers the unusual pleasure of actually touching the works of art. Once a month, a small group of blind and visually impaired guests get together for a guided tour through the museum’s galleries.
Audio guides in the most popular languages, braille cards, and access ramps have greatly facilitated the public’s interaction with the works of art displayed in museums, especially for physically handicapped visitors.
Participants during an Art InSight Program at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Most museums offer services especially designed for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. But MoMA’s Art inSight, launched in March, goes beyond what we’ve seen until now.
How many times have you come too close to a sculpture in a museum, only to be told to keep your distance? And don´t even think of touching anything because you have been warned: “look, but do not touch”!
One goes to museums, fundamentally, to look. Of course there are exceptions, like audio exhibitions and other media that support other forms of interaction. The blind have the option of requesting the services of guides that can include them in groups, or give them personalized tours of the museum.
Around twenty people participated in Art inSight during the month of March to visit the exhibition Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925. They were able to touch pieces by Kandinsky, Malevich and Marcel Duchamp.
A guide explains the origin and the shape of the artwork to a group of visually impaired visitors.
Most of the works, paintings and fragile drawings, are not allowed to be touched. The way to establish a connection between the blind and these pieces, is to rely on the exhaustive descriptions provided by the guides, complemented with information about the artistic periods and the authors. The aim is to enhance their perception of each work.
The exhibition includes a 1918 piece by Duchamp with a seemingly ironic title: A regarder (l’autre cote du verre) d’un oeil, de pres, pendant presque une heure” (To Look [from across the glass] with one eye, from a short distance, for almost one hour”). The reaction of the visitors to this work must have been quite sublime.
However, abstraction seems to be the most difficult art movement to appreciate solely through verbal descriptions, or through touch; its “representation” is difficult even for those who can see.
A blind man and woman discover a work of art through touch.
Carrie McGee, who oversees the program, said to the press that the first visits for the blind were organized in the 1970s, and focused only in sculptures. It was later decided to “take on the challenge of trying to make accessible to the blind the paintings and other objects that can´t be touched, through creative and multi-sensory alternatives.”
Art inSight is an art program for everybody, without exclusions. ■
PHOTOS: M. Nagle.