MoMA Touch Tour

As part of the 2nd year Community Access Through the Arts course, instructor Val Sereno took her class to the Museum of Modern Art for a presentation detailing MoMA’s Access Programs, and a demonstration of a Touch Tour. We’ve asked two students from the class to talk about this experience.


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Morgan Beard (Class of 2017): In the 2nd year Community Access class, students visited the Museum of Modern Art to meet with Francesca Rosenberg, the Director of Community, Access, and School Programs. She described the comprehensive and innovative means by which MoMA not only accommodates, but actively seeks to engage the community at large and visitors with disabilities. They believe in the power of art, and therefore, want to provide as many people as possible with a meaningful museum experience. This means pioneering the use of technologies such as audio guides with induction loops for the hearing impaired, video and teleconferencing seminars for seniors and touch and verbal description tours for the blind and partially-sighted. They make a genuine effort to creatively connect with the community in new and exciting ways.

Francesca then guided the class through a touch tour in the MoMA sculpture garden. Each student received a pair of thin plastic gloves through which to experience Pablo Picasso’s She-Goat (1950), a bronze sculpture of a goat that incorporates found objects into its skeleton, and Henri Matisse’s The Back, a four-piece series of bronze relief sculptures completed over the course of 23 years. As the students felt the varying textures and forms of Picasso’s goat, Francesca explained how she would use verbal description to create an overall image of the sculpture in the mind’s eye. The students experienced firsthand the reciprocal process by which verbal description and physical interaction with the forms themselves could generate a comprehensive understanding of the work. Touching the Matisse series provides an illustrative lesson in abstraction, as the reliefs represent a gradual decline in realism moving from left to right along the garden wall. The first relief is a highly realistic portrait of a female model’s back side. You can feel the definition of the musculature and flesh protruding from the smooth background. As you encounter each subsequent work, the forms loosen under your fingertips. What was once a realistic notion of the shoulder and upper back is now an indistinct, rectangular form. Comparing their experience to what it might be like for a blind or partially-sighted visitor, the students could appreciate the immense value provided by the ability to engage with the art through touch, a sense often taken for granted in an environment that privileges the visual.


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Jason Montalvo (Class of 2017):
While Art Therapy may possibly be understood as occurring within a therapeutic space or institution with an art therapist, being and invited and engaged by Francesca Rosenberg, Director of Community and Access Programs of the Museum of Modern Art, this is far from the case. It was enriching, motivating and inspiring as to how the MoMA recognizes not just the importance of art, but also the individual’s ability to experience. Be it at the Museum itself, an external educational, medical; psychiatric setting or even an institution for incarceration there is a drive, a passion that the MoMA carries in its community engagement. Regardless of an individual’s disability, the MoMA has sought to cater to all those by providing audio-assistance devices, variable font-sized guidebooks, and, the most awe-inspiring, guided-tours for the visually impaired or blind. For these individuals’, the museum has not only created and provide guidebooks in braille for the visually-impaired but also “Touch Tours,” for which I had the pleasure of experiencing. For those that are truly visually impaired, the tour provides an opportunity to have the individual experience the art-work through touch and verbal guidance, allowing for a visual image to be painted within the mind of the disabled tourist. In experiencing the tour myself, it was immensely humbling but also attuning. The art-work in itself took on a deeper meaning as I was able to physically scan Pablo Picasso’s “The She Goat,” and in addition other works. The contours, the materials, the piece all provided a deeper linkage to the art but also to the clients’ we as art therapists, and art therapists in training, truly seek to understand. In taking part with this rare opportunity, it contributes immensely to the future work we, artists or art therapists, seek to do.


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