Henry Moore’s sculpture Large Two Forms, located outside the AGO, is constantly touched, sat upon and even played on. This has caused localized polishing, loss of the original artist’s surface treatment (patina) and exposure of the underlying weld lines—all of which are clearly evident in this photograph.
During almost every visit to an art gallery with kids—or kids at heart—someone will utter the words “don’t touch!” As gallery-goers get more experienced and hear that phrase again and again, the instinct to reach out and feel a work of art fades or even disappears. Even when visitors are allowed to touch certain artworks and are encouraged to do so, as in our current exhibition Michael Snow: Objects of Vision, many hesitate.
So most of us know that touching the art is usually not okay, but do we really know why? The reasons, it turns out, are many. Below, see notes from the AGO’s Deputy Director of Collections Management and Conservation, Margaret Haupt, on why a “hands off” approach is so important to the preservation of many works of art.
Touching a work of art makes it dirty—significantly dirty—and with surprisingly little handling.
The sticky, greasy accumulation attracts dirt and quickly becomes dark.
Finger soiling will also cause chemical and physical changes in the surface that has been touched. For example, the varnish on paintings will become cloudy and acid from the hands can accelerate the corrosion of metals, even etching fingerprints into the carefully created surface finish (patina) on a sculpture.
Heat from the hands can damage the gilding on some frames.
Touching will cause localized polishing of the touched surfaces, spoiling the finish that the artist created—even spoiling the overall aesthetic effect intended by the artist. Consider the bright toe of the sculpture of Timothy Eaton at the Eaton Centre—or the gleaming nose of a bronze portrait.
The typical fingerprint is made up of oils, dirt, skin cells and other debris that is deposited when someone touches a surface.
Touching is also associated with accidental damages such as scratching and breakage.
All of these damages create permanent changes in the work of art. It is possible that the work may be cleaned and/or repaired, but it is also a fact that the object will never be the same again.
We don’t always know from looking at a three-dimensional object how it has been constructed, how structurally stable it is or whether its centre of gravity is actually where we would expect it to be. The AGO works hard to protect the visitor from health and safety risks associated with displayed art works, but the visitor is generally safer not touching the artwork.
Staff take care to wash their hands thoroughly before touching any collection item. Where gloves are more appropriate than handling a work with bare hands, the gloves are selected to be safe for that particular object. Gloves used at the AGO are typically made of nitrile or white cotton.
And now you know!
Curious about Conservation?
If you have a burning question about Conservation, leave it in the comments below. We’ll do our best to give you an answer in an upcoming Conservation Notes post!
Signature Partner of the AGO’s Conservation Program
The Art Gallery of Ontario mourns the loss of Denyse Thomasos, who died suddenly July 19, 2012, during a routine medical procedure. She was a remarkable artist who taught us how to see and understand the world in a different light. She will be deeply missed by all who were touched by her person and her work.
We are honoured to have Thomasos’s work in our collection. Metropolis (2007) is part of the exhibition Watch This Space, on view at the Gallery until summer 2013. Watch her discuss her life and work in this 2011 interview with Dana Kandic for Observer TV.
A crowd gathers in Walker Court the evening of July 18, awaiting the arrival of artist Michael Snow.
After winning the 2011 Gershon Iskowitz Prize, renowned artist Michael Snow is exploring the art of looking with an exhibition at the AGO. On from July 18 to December 9, 2012, Michael Snow: Objects of Vision highlights Snow’s continuing contribution to Canadian art and his ongoing investigation into visual perception.
On the evening of July 18, the Gallery held a public reception and artist talk to celebrate the exhibition’s opening. Snow, along with AGO CEO and director Matthew Teitelbaum, Gershon Iskowitz Foundation chair Jeanette Hlinka and AGO curator Georgiana Uhlyarik, spoke to a buzzing audience in Walker Court. Afterward, Snow and the AGO’s Gillian McIntyre stood surrounded by his sculptures in the Signy Eaton Gallery and discussed the work. See more snapshots from the event below!
[Rollover or click on the thumbnail images for captions.]
On July 12, 2012, we took to Twitter with one mission: to hear and share tips on how to introduce kids to the wonderful world of art. The good people at Bunch joined us as co-hosts for this month’s #ArtHour. See some highlights from the discussion below! Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday, July 12, from 11 a.m. to noon the AGO is teaming up with Bunch and co-hosting an hour-long online discussion about kids and art. We hope you’ll take part!
School is out and parents are looking for ways to keep their kids’ bodies and minds active and engaged. Art activities are an obvious go-to on lazy, hazy summer days, but it’s less clear how to keep kids interested, cultivate their creativity and find age-appropriate materials for both art-making and art education. How can you accomplish all that while creating a sense of wonder about the world of art and keeping paint and glue off the carpet?
On July 12, we’re looking for answers on Twitter, with help from our co-hosts Bunch and their expertise on art and culture for families. During #ArtHour, we will ask six questions related to the topic, with the aim of generating a great discussion and giving parents, caregivers and art educators a platform to share tips:
Q1 How do you expose your kids to art in the city? Q2 Do kids learn more about art from making it or seeing it? Q3 What’s an art project you did with your kids that really got them engaged at a young age? Q4 How can we use technology to introduce children to art? Any resources you can recommend? Q5 Everyone has a marker bin, but does your family use any outside-the-box art materials? Q6 How do you determine what art is appropriate for your kids to see?
The person who contributes the most to the conversation will win five VIP passes to visit Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris before August 12. Each pass comes with an audio guide, which contains several stops that are just for kids! The passes also include general admission to our collection and current exhibitions.
HOW TO TAKE PART
What #ArtHour is a Twitter chat with a new art topic each month. We invite you to spend one hour each month thinking about and sharing what art really means to you. When Thursday, July 12, 11:00 a.m. – noon EDT (takes place the second Thursday of every month). Where On Twitter. Follow @agotoronto and @BunchFamily for more information, or search for the hashtag #ArtHour. You can follow along using Tweetchat by using the #ArtHour hashtag. Who #ArtHour is for everyone: galleries and museums, arts professionals, artists and anyone interested in learning more and meeting other passionate art fans. How Starting at 11 a.m. @agotoronto and @BunchFamily will be tweeting a question every 10 minutes using the hashtag #ArtHour. Anyone can respond, also using #ArtHour. For example, we would tweet Q1 What is your favourite painting? #ArtHour, and you could tweet back A1 The West Wind by Tom Thomson! #ArtHour.
We hope that you’ll help spread the word and join us for this great online event. For more information about #ArtHour please email firstname.lastname@example.org.