Why can’t I touch art?
Well, because you might smash a delicate sculpture,
or ruin an antique, priceless canvas.
But also because of the cumulative, chemical effects of the oils,
dirt, and sweat in your fingers over time.
However, emerging form of art are beginning to increasingly
encourage participation across the senses.
So, why can’t I touch art?
Or, how does the shifting world of art
mean that sometimes, you can?
Conservation staff do touch art all the time.
I probably touch art almost every single day.
Sometimes hundreds of times a day.
Trying to understand the condition of an artwork,
touch is a really important part of that.
You can tell a lot of information from your fingertips.
Artwork is so delicate
that quick changes in humidity, heat and light levels can rapidly age it.
Preservation of our collection is the forefront of what we do as an organisation.
and we all gallery staff involve in that to some extent.
So, an acceptable starting point
for a discussion around lifespan for our collection is 500 years.
So, in order to preserve a watercolour painting for 500 years,
it tends to be displayed in the region of two years per decade.
Whereas with a Japanese print, which uses highly light sensitive colourants,
that can be displayed for more like eight months per decade, or even less.
More recent work is actually more vulnerable
because of a drop in the quality of available art materials.
The longevity of modern paper is a good example.
The problem came when wood started being used,
19th century predominantly.
So when we realised you can chemically treat it, and it would become paper
that’s when the problem started.
Older paper, up to… I would say the mid to late 18th century
is all high quality.
Titian, Michaelangelo, Raphael, they’re all working with permanence in mind.
提香 米开朗琪罗 拉斐尔 创作时都考虑到持久性
They’re working really high quality materials made really well.
That’s because early paper was made with
pure linen, cotton and hemp with no impurities.
纯亚麻 棉花和麻类植物制作的 不含任何杂质
So there’s an inherent strength.
Anything modern today, unless it’s really high end handmade paper,
will be poorish quality.
If we get 100 years, we’ll be doing well.
With recent work so delicate,
it’s essential to limit cumulative human touch
and methods of doing so vary from gallery to gallery.
It’s our job as a curator
to be that kind of mediator between the artist, the artwork, and the audience.
And we’re there to make sure that each of those components can happily co-exist.
It’s a matter of judgement really.
The last thing you want is a big barrier.
We don’t want to be shouting at anyone saying: Don’t touch that. Don’t get too close.
You want the visitor to feel comfortable.
We hope that people will find a way of enjoying the work that they find in the building
without having that physical interaction.
Can you just use your eyes rather than use your fingers?
Gallery designers have a tricky balance to maintain.
Physical barriers can create an intimidating atmosphere,
but at the same time they can add a kind of gravitas to the work.
It has a certain air to it when you’ve got a beautiful red rope
in front of something.
There is that immediacy of how the art was made,
and then conversely how we’re not allowed to run our hands over it
or get really close and stare at it.
It’s a really difficult tension between wanting people to get close to objects
and be able to see them in the way they’re meant to be seen versus protecting them.
But this dynamic between artwork and viewer
has changed dramatically in recent years.
As installation and experiential artwork has really broken through in the art scene,
large-scale work that fills rooms
and inspires touch, sound and smell.
It’s no longer just an artwork on the wall.
You can walk round it and see it from all angles.
Installation artwork has roots in the 60’s,
with artists like Marcel Duchamp and Allan Kaprow.
Think the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern,
and its slides, swings and suns.
Whilst experiential artwork emergent in the past decade
has further broken down barriers, inviting participation and touch.
New artists now who are particularly interested in engaging with the audience,
not just visually, but in a way they are part of that environment.
Happy Here is one such piece
that involves the viewer in its creation and experience.
Whilst Ernesto Neto’s It Happens When The Body Is The Anatomy of Time
plays with smell,
packing huge forms of nylon mesh with rich spices.
It’s really interesting sensory experience.
The incredible smell of these spices set across the gallery,
which lasted for probably about a year afterwards.
Of course, these emergent forms
have further blurred the lines between viewer and artwork
in a way that has kind of complicated relationships with work in traditional galleries.
It can sometimes be a little bit confusing,
cause more and more artists nowadays have work that you can interact with.
They’re often not sure if it’s art or not.
You can touch here, but you can’t touch there.
We are definitely testing visitors on how you’re going to view it.
So that line of it being no touching/touching
has kind of changed over time.
It’s important that art isn’t routinely touched,
as canvases, paints and sculptures can be so delicate
despite our conservation staff routinely handling them.
But this all raises questions that the galleries are continually assessing.
How do rules and barriers affect the atmosphere of galleries?
And how should the preservation of work over the centuries be balanced
with this idea of artwork being for the public
and being accessible to everyone?
It’s a really tough question to answer I would say.
Whether that’s the right balance is a really…I think you’d have to ask our audience that.
That’s a really difficult question to answer.
I mean, if we’re going to have the artists of the future,
then we’ve got to start somewhere.
And being a passive viewer is great,
but actually being able to kind of inspire that
curiosity and that creativity as well is even better.
Do you get the urge to reach out and touch art?
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Why can’t I touch art?