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Art or Toy?

Posted by Sarah Margerum on November 28, 2011 in exhibit reviews |

Last week, I visited the MFA with my friend and her five month old son, Lucas. We’re doing our part to create a museum advocate of the future. Lucas was especially engaged in the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. He remained content for a surprising amount of time, simply looking at all of the interesting objects around him. Spotting Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled (Beginning), a green and silver beaded curtain which is deliberately hung as a partition between two galleries, my friend immediately walked Lucas through it. When she turned to pass through a second time, the employee stationed nearby informed her, rather unkindly, “it’s art, not a toy.” Now I understand the need to protect a work of art, but this particular object is meant to be experienced by touching, looking closely and even listening to the lovely sound it makes when the beads are moved. I don’t imagine they would have hung it in a busy entryway if it wasn’t durable enough to endure constant handling. So, if a visitor is handling an object with appropriate care, why shouldn’t they be allowed to experience it more than once? If a visitor, even a five month old one, is interested enough to linger instead of simply passing through en route to something else, isn’t that a good thing? Visitors are often uncomfortable in museums; they may feel unsure of the etiquette and what they may and may not touch. It concerns me that by encouraging visitors to touch a work of art, but then reprimanding them for wanting to touch it again, employees of the museum may cause visitors to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. That surely was not the intention when it was installed. So what do you think? Can it be art and a toy? Is it less of a work of art if visitors are allowed to touch it as much as they like? I encourage you to visit and see it for yourself. Be sure to pay close attention the first time around though, because you might not be allowed to pass through twice.

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