Museum to Visitors: Please Do Touch, for Scientific Purposes

Photo Credit: The Walters Art Museum, Modest Venus, or Venus Pudica, a 10.5-inch bronze statuette cast around 1500 by an anonymous Italian artist, is one of the pieces replicated for museum goers to caress for science at an exhibition in Baltimore.

Newswise — It’s the first rule at any art museum: Do not touch the artifacts. Except at this museum and at this one time.

At the “Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: Exploring the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes” exhibition — at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore through April 15 — visitors are invited to disregard that decree and to hold, stroke and even caress the pieces.

In fact, handling the objects d’arts — replicas of famous 16th century statuettes held by the Walters — is one of the reasons for the exhibition, explains neuroscientist Steven Hsiao, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute. The institute is partnering with the Walters on the show, the fourth in a series of projects between the museum and Johns Hopkins.

“We’re challenging people to think about why physical contact with works of art can be so satisfying,” says Hsiao, whose work includes exploring many aspects of humans’ sense of touch. “In fact, as people browse the exhibition, we will be asking them to react to what they are seeing and feeling.”

The installation incorporates 12 works of art from the Walters collection, along with 22 replicas for visitors to touch and rate, providing data for ongoing research.

The project melds the research interests of Hsiao, who specializes in many facets of touch, and those of Joaneath Spicer, the Walters’ curator of Renaissance and Baroque art, who studies the Renaissance penchant for collecting and commissioning small statuettes and other luxury goods that were satisfying to touch and handle.

But the special appeal of this exhibition lies in the opportunity to join in comparative experiments with the statuettes (well, the replicas, actually).

“We’ll be asking visitors to handle them and to tell us what sculptures they prefer and to rate how they like sculptures that have been modified in their shape and texture. This exhibition allows us to dissect why some objects feel better than others” Hsiao says.

Visitors will register these preferences, and other reactions, on Apple iPads, and visitors will be able to see a dynamic display of their responses. The data will be used in Hsaio’s and Spicer’s research on tactile aesthetics. (Visitors will not be handling the original 16th century artwork; they will only be permitted to touch replica art exclusively fashioned for the show.)

The Walters Art Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and is located at 600 North Charles St. in Baltimore.

Related links:
Steven Hsiao:
http://neuroscience.jhu.edu/StevenHsiao.php

The Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/brainscience/

The Walters Art Museum:
http://thewalters.org/eventscalendar/eventdetails.aspx?e=2207

Released: Released: 1/23/20

Source: Johns Hopkins

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/museum-to-visitors-please-do-touch-for-scientific-purposes

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