Touching the Prado

We all get that to touch a work of art is just one of those things that is simply impermissible, yet, there is something about a painting or sculpture that has a particular resonance with us that invites us to do just that.
You want to “touch greatness”, even though you understand how wrong it is. Sometimes then, when in a gallery, we feel as though we are constantly fighting against our urges. It’s just one of those things.
Nevertheless, galleries and museums are conscious that the self-evident reasons for not allowing people to touch a work of art bring with it some significant problems. You exclude, for example, people with physical and sensory disabilities from being able to enjoy engaging with works of art.
Now, the last thing any cultural institution wants is for a masterpiece painting to be ruined, smudged with fingerprints, canvasses distorted and the like. It is, to state the obvious, just common sense to prohibit anyone from touching works.
However, as the curator to a new exhibition at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, told Hyperallergic recently, widening access is important. “One of the goals of the Prado is to disseminate its collections to the whole society,” Fernando Pérez said. “There are people with physical or sensory disabilities who need our support, assistance, and complicity on many levels.”
Touching the Prado is the latest show at the museum to make art more accessible to all audiences, this being the first to be aimed specifically at those who are blind or visually impaired (other exhibitions have focused on engaging those with Alzheimer’s disease, those who are on the autism spectrum and deaf people).
This features six works of art by artists including Francisco de Goya (The Parasol); El Greco (The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest); and Diego Velazquez (Vulcan’s Forge). As a whole they represent different pictorial genres.
“Developed in collaboration with professionals in the sector of visual impairment, this project allows for the reality of the painting to be perceived in order to mentally recreate it as a whole and thus provide an emotional perception of the work,” the museum explains online.
“Non-sighted visitors will be able to obtain a heightened degree of artistic-aesthetic-creative enjoyment in order to explain, discuss and analyse these works in the Prado. In addition to the three-dimensional images, the display will include didactic material such as texts in braille, audio guides and opaque glasses aimed at facilitating the experience for fully sighted visitors.”
The works have been rendered using a technique known as Didú, which offers everyone the ability to engage with photographs and works of art in a radically different way – it adds volume and texture to what is either flat (as in the case of a photograph) or off limits (a Vincent van Gogh painting is textured, but you can’t touch it).
This procedure, which has been pioneered by the Bilbao-based design agency Estudios Durero, is underpinned by a philosophy of “touch to see” or, as it puts it, “touch to see in a different way”. It’s kind of like 3D, but with more substance, spirit even. More of this is approach to art is certainly welcome by all.
Touching the Prado at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain, runs until June 28th, 2015.
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in shipping fine art all over the world.