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Seeing Isn’t Always Believing: "Please Touch!" Exhibit at the Monmouth Museum

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing: "Please Touch!" Exhibit at the Monmouth Museum

Yes, at an exhibition currently on view at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft, you can both look at AND touch the artwork. In fact, you are asked – or maybe commanded– to do so in the exhibit’s title: “Please Touch! Sculpture Exhibition” now on view through September 6. At this unique exhibit, security guards will not be ready to pounce on visitors whose hands get too close to the artwork, nor do you have to fear setting off those usual museum alarms if you venture too close to the artwork.

Indulge your rebellious side and touch the pieces in this exhibition – but just this one, mind you– in Monmouth Museum’s main gallery. Featured are a number of free-standing sculptures that can (gently) be touched and felt by visitors.

The “Please Touch!” exhibit is intended to help visually impaired visitors to experience art in a very real way, unlike at most art museums. Sighted people will also be able to experience art from a new perspective, without relying on their eyesight.

Many of the sculptures in the exhibit are multimedia – that’s a fancy way of saying that they are made of all kinds of materials that will feel different to the touch. (Sorry, my 4-year old daughter LOVES her “Fancy Nancy” books, so I tend to think in those terms these days.)

While this exhibit may be intended for the visually-impaired, everyone can benefit from this special access. Those of you who are also parents of young children will agree with me when I say that preventing little kids, in particular, from touching EVERYTHING is a herculean task. (I’ve successfully managed to convey the dangers of touching hot things to my daughter, for which I’m prepared to call my entire parenting record a success.)

But really, I can’t blame kids for the urge to touch. There’s so much information to be gained about an object, based on the sense of touch. Think about it, when you add touch into the experience, you’re likely to be using a total of four of the five senses: you’re close enough to hear and smell it, and of course you’re seeing it and now touching it – really all that’s left out is taste. (Please take note: the Monmouth Museum exhibit is NOT called “Please Taste.” You’ll have to do without that sense.)

Sculpture by its very nature is an artform that almost requires interaction from its viewer. A painting, for example, is almost always intended to be viewed from a particular angle and—with the exception of some more modern multimedia works— is two-dimensional. Paintings are often intended to be hung on a wall, in a frame. You often take in the big picture from afar and move in more closely to see the details. Moving from left to right doesn’t often change your perception of the picture and you generally can’t walk around the piece to gain a new angle.

But sculptures – especially freestanding ones – are entirely different. Sometimes they are intended to be seen from a particular angle, but more often than not, viewers are encouraged to walk around the sculpture, and their perception of the piece can change based upon the viewing angle. (That’s one of the things I used to love about teaching intro to art history – my students would be fascinated by images of sculptures taken from less frequently seen angles.)

But being able to touch the sculptures, as at the Monmouth Museum, is an exceptional opportunity. Is the material warm or cold? Smooth or rough? Soft or hard? Or somewhere in between each of those? Try guessing what you think you’ll feel before touching each sculpture and see if it’s what you expected. I guarantee you’ll be surprised at least once. As the saying goes, seeing isn’t always believing, but I think you’ll find that seeing AND touching will be appreciating.

The Details

The “Please Touch!” Sculpture Exhibition is on view through September 6 at the Monmouth Museum, located at 765 Newman Springs Road, Lincroft, NJ 07738 on the Brookdale Community College campus. The museum is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m.  Admission is $8 per person; admission is free for children under two, Monmouth Museum members and Brookdale students/staff with ID. For more information, visit monmouthmuseum.org or call (732) 747-2266.

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