I have a secret. A shameful, potentially career-ending secret.
I want to touch the art. I would never do it of course; I am a museum professional, after all. But I’ve been thinking about it since I was a kid.
Vincent van Gogh was my gateway artist. His paintings are practically three-dimensional, with globs of thick paint that almost dare you to touch. Are those globs soft? Squishy? Dry? Crumbly? I’m proud to say I don’t know—and neither should you.
I’ll be perfectly clear on this point: you should never touch a work of art. Touching objects is extremely bad. It has something to do with the oils in our skin and the paint or patina or whatever. You should just never do it.
The problem is that the Art of the Americas Wing, which is about to reopen, is filled with temptation. Just getting there means passing through Shapiro Family Courtyard, where two sculptures jockey for attention. Dale Chihuly’s Lime Green Icicle Tower is bright green, tall, and spiky like a pineapple. Yoshitomo Nara’s Your Dog is deep black, stocky, and smooth like patent leather. They’re opposites in many ways, but both have tactile appeal. Are they cool to the touch? How pointy are the tips of those green icicles? Is the dog solid or filled with air like a balloon? Is it heavy?
Speaking of heavy, just on the other side of the American Wing entrance is Paul Revere’s Sons of Liberty Bowl. I’ve always wondered how much it would weigh if you picked it up and held it. They keep that one under glass. Smart.
Around the corner sits Arno, Horatio Greenough’s marble greyhound, which looks like it could stand up and walk away at any minute. When my son was little, he desperately wanted to hug Arno and so did I. Still do! A couple years ago I came across Arno with a lipstick kiss on the side of his head. Just to be clear, kissing counts as touching. Same rules apply.
Upstairs, the exhibition “Women Take the Floor” offers no relief. Kay Sekimachi’s Amiyose V is wispy like a column of smoke. It seems like you could blow it away with a breath. By the way, blowing counts as touching, too!
Sheila Hicks’s ropey fiber sculpture Bamiam is the opposite of ghostly and ephemeral. It is solid and thick and heavy. It looks like you could use it for tug-of-war or maybe tie a ship to a pier with it. A part of me wants to climb it like a rope in gym class. Needless to say, climbing counts as touching!
There’s one more stop on this tour de touch: Kehinde Wiley’s John, 1st Baron Byron, a favorite of favorites. I love the size, the colors, the patterns, the model’s gaze, and his musculature. I even like his T-shirt! This is a special, beautiful, and important painting. And I don’t feel compelled to touch it at all.
Instead, this one touches me.
Welcome back, everyone!