High-quality photographs, detailed descriptions and curiously curated collections are all beautiful aspects of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s newly-relevant online galleries. But the online exhibition lacks some of the crucial qualities which make in-person art museums so vibrant and exhilarating: you can’t touch the art.
Walking into any art museum, the first steps are natural. You pick up a map at the kiosk, find the gallery you first want to explore and then gently caress the first painting you see. I couldn’t lick the acrylic portraits or embrace the armless Greek statues; my experience was fraught with a sense of isolation from the physicality of the art I once enjoyed.
As I gazed at Edward Hopper’s Sun on Prospect Street, I couldn’t rub my fingers along the oil to determine the textural properties of the painting which had captured me. The most essential element of my visit to the art museum is gone, irreplaceable by websites and remote appreciation.
The next page took me to a twelfth-century BCE Chinese wine vessel. I tried to imagine its cold metal feeling, the intimate coarseness of its bronze outer layer. Does it taste like pennies? Is it scratchy on the outside? I wondered, but without the experience of touching the art itself, I would never know.
I imagined sounds emanating from the photograph of an 1884 Turkish kemenche, a musical instrument I’d never seen before. The suggestion was almost cruel; why would you put a musical instrument online if I can’t pick up the art and play it myself, like in the in-person museum?
Finally, I happened upon Lace Mountains, a massive contemporary sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard. My fingers itched to feel the graphite and wood, layered in pieces like Jenga blocks, begging for me to touch them, to taste their inevitable No. 2 pencil flavor.
Without a security guard ushering me out of the museum at my trip’s finale, the experience felt incomplete. There was no end because there had been no beginning nor middle; in fact, did I even truly go to the art museum at all if I touched none of the art?
I hadn’t truly basked in the spirit of the paintings, sculptures, and beauties I had witnessed. Without the sense of touch, I felt I lost all senses.
The museum has always been a home to me, full of textural sensations I enjoyed while museum volunteers were looking away. But now, it’s futile. How could anyone enjoy art without touching it? The concept is absurd.
Though the online galleries left far too much to the imagination, I’ll be back. I’ll feel that art someday, and then, perhaps, it can truly be appreciated.