The number one art taboo is touching the art. Stories of people interacting physically with art works tend to be tragic, whether they be the hammering of Michelangelo’s Pieta or that clumsy kid who tripped and punched a hole in a 17th century painting. But Cantor Fine Art, a just-launched gallery by father and son team Larry and Sam Cantor, offers a story of a different kind of physical interaction with art in their project, Please Touch the Art. They partnered with artist Andrew Myers to create a tactile painting that is appreciable by both sighted and blind art lovers.
Andrew Myers is trained as a sculptor, and uses thousands of painted screws to create sculpted portraits. Please Touch the Art was inspired by one blind man’s interaction with Myers’ work—the man explored the art with his hands, as Myers’ works are the rare paintings that are representational both visually and tactilely. "The moment really struck a chord with Andrew and with us,” Sam Cantor tells The Creators Project. "It lead to a lot of questions about why touching art was so taboo and what other people were making tactile art.” Why do we restrict ourselves to having only one sensory experience of art? Well, clearly the answer’s that we want to preserve the works so that as many people as possible can experience them. But is it better for 1,000 people to experience a work in a way that’s purely visual, or for 100 people to interact with it in a way that’s more representative of our full sensual capacities?
After making fruitless attempts to track down this blind man, Myers and the gallery set out to find a blind artist and paint their tactile portrait. This was no easy task—they wanted to surprise an artist with his or her portrait, and the blind community was understandably weary of letting them in. "I was actually kicked out of a Braille Institute,” says Cantor. "Organizations that help the visually impaired are very, very protective.” But finally, they were put in touch with master woodworker George Wurtzel, whom they met and interviewed, and whose portrait they surreptitiously snapped. Wurtzel is himself creating a Tactile Art Center where blind artists can sell their work. “I’ve been told not to touch sculptures that were fully intended to be outside in the elements where the pigeons can shit on them,” Wurtzel says in the video. “I’m absolutely convinced that I am less of an encumbrance to the long-term existence of that piece than pigeon shit is."
Finally, Myers created a portrait of Wurtzel that serves as both a traditional painting the sighted can view with their eyes, as well as one that the blind can take in via touch. "This project completely flipped my perspective on what beauty is, and how absolutely amazing the visually impaired community is. I know that sounds sappy but I really mean it,” says Cantor. "Not every piece of art needs to or should be touched… But perhaps it’s time we took a look at how pervasive and mandatory our ‘no touching’ rules really are—it might help everyone see artwork a little differently."