Ever since we’d first been brought as youngster to a museum or an exhibit, the very first rule seared into our consciousness is “DO NOT TOUCH THE ART” — quite often, accompanied with an image of stern eyes glaring at you from behind a security visor.
However, the Prado museum in Spain has opened a very special exhibit where the visitors aren’t just allowed to touch the paintings — they’re encouraged to do so.
The museum has commissioned artists to recreate some of the collection’s most iconic and well-loved pieces — including, and not only limited to, the works of Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco — and add texture with special pigments so that blind people can also enjoy them.
“It’s a special type of paint designed to react to ultraviolet light and rise like yeast when you’re baking,” says the curator of the exhibit, Fernando Pérez Suescun. “It creates volume and texture.”
This brilliant concept is well-received, and the crowds are certainly all the happier for it.
Guadelupe Iglesias, 53, is one such happy visitor. “I used to come to the Prado all the time. love Velazquez. I used to bring my daughter and her friends here to see this very painting.” She lost her eyesight to a retinal disease in 2001, and could only cobble together memories of the paintings she used to enjoy from a distance. Now, she is reunited with her beloved paintings, and is even on a more intimate, tactile relationship with them.
She runs her fingers over the laurel crown of a 3D recreation of Velasquez’ “Apollo In The Forge of Vulcan”, and the pleasure blooms on her face. “Fantastic!” she beams.
The exhibit is open not just to the visually impaired, but also to anyone looking for experience art in a different way. “I think it’s a really cool way to experience art even if you’re not vision-impaired… Touching paintings seems like a really cool idea. It’s more like what the figures feel like, if they were real,” says Isabell O’Donell, 20, a student hailing from New York who came to visit Madrid. for folks like her, the museum provides a pair of blindfold-like opaque glasses to heighten the tactile experience of the art. “It’s kind of weird. I sort of kept checking over the top of the glasses to see what I was touching, because you kinda can’t tell,” she chuckles.
The Prado museum also provides hand sanitizers to visitors at the end of the exhibit — and cool water bowls for seeing-eye dogs. Guiding their charges around the exhibit can certainly be thirsty work.
This special exhibit will run through June 28.
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