Saturday, March 01, 2008

Touchable art!

Signs ask visitors to keep their hands off the art in the Louvre Museum. But one special sculpture gallery invites art lovers to indulge. The Louvre’s Tactile Gallery, targeted to the blind and visually impaired, is the only space in the museum where visitors can touch the sculptures, with no guards or alarms to stop them. Its latest exhibit is a crowd-pleaser: a menagerie of sculpted lions, snakes, horses and eagles.

The 15 bronze, plaster and terra-cotta animals are reproductions of famous works found elsewhere in the Louvre. Called "Animals, Symbols of Power," the exhibit focuses on animals that were used by kings, emperors and pharaohs throughout history to symbolise the greatness of their reigns. Though the gallery was conceived for the blind and visually impaired, children and other visitors also enjoy it.

During guided tours on the weekends, children can explore the art with blindfolds on. The Louvre opened the Tactile Gallery in 1995. Though other French cultural exhibits offer periodic events and programmes for the blind, the Louvre says it is the only museum in France with a gallery specifically set up for the visually impaired.

Elsewhere in Europe, Ancona, Italy, and Athens, Greece, have entire tactile museums. "There’s really a way to learn how to touch, with habits to learn," said Cyrille Gouyette, the co-head of the Louvre’s gallery. Some people run their hands over the works, he said, and some even knock on them to understand the material of which they’re made.

He said the exhibit on animals strives to "use the sense of touch to make people think." The exhibit displays statues of Charlemagne and French King Louis XIV astride their horses, a pose that raised the rulers and made them look more imposing. It also features a reproduction of a Napoleonic eagle. Napoleon chose the eagle as an insignia because he was inspired by Ancient Rome’s use of the bird as a sign of its military might. The exhibit, which opened in December, is scheduled to run for about three years.

First-time visitor Didier Roule, who was accompanied by his seeing-eye dog, said the visually impaired "are certainly more attentive to some details... and we can feel things through the materials." Roule, a sculptor himself, said, "The exhibit gives me ideas."


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