Friday, July 05, 2013

A touching experience

Back in the 1970s a big problem was how to deal with the do-not-touch thing. Someone once said (it might have been Richard Killeen) that the New in New Zealand dogged us all making us very suspicious of patina and wear-and-tear, particularly in art. That’s why a Gordon Walters painting with even the slightest scuff can die in an auction whereas the finger prints and abrasions on the edges of a Mondrian can be regarded as a badge of honour, proof positive that this painting is part of the real world. It even went so far as exhibitions with titles like Touch in which all the works could be handled and even exhibitions for the blind (did we really do that?).

We saw a more pragmatic response to the do-not-touch problem in a Franz West exhibition at the MMK in Frankfurt. West was a passionate advocate of audience participation and in this exhibition (despite some collectors fearing the worst and not allowing their works to be handled) there was a significant opportunity to be part of the West experience. Sculptures to sit on, works to spin around, objects to slip over the arms (or if you were really up for it, the head) and wave about and a small sculpture that you could wrestle to the ground as one member of a school party did while we were there.

All this was made possible by the good will of some collectors and the use of exhibition copies of what Franz West called his adaptables. When you think about it, if you can make entirely new sculptures after artists die it's not too much of a stretch to create exhibition copies of works(with the artist's ok) for visitors to play around with.