Anyone who has ever been to a museum knows that you are not supposed to touch the art. Almost anyone, that is. I once witnessed a man leaning on a painting in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City and was appalled. The guards quickly informed him of the rule that it seems every other museum-goer knows. Although we all know this rule and its importance, isn't it tempting? I am always intrigued by the surface of works of art and by the texture that can be created through different media and processes.
I found myself walking around the galleries of the Modern imagining the feel of different works of art. I walk by Anselm Kiefer's Aschenblume and imagine the brittle surface crumbling with the slightest touch to its surface. Most of us have no context for the feeling of oil, clay, ash, dirt, and dried sunflower mixed together, however some of the works which intrigue my sense of touch can be more easily imagined.
I imagine the feeling of the rough canvas of Morris Louis's Beta Mu (and the smudges I might leave behind in its blank space.) I can visualize the splinters I might get by touching Carl Andre's Tau and Threshold (Element Series), and the possible warmth I might feel from Dan Flavin's Diagonal of May 25, 1963. The FOCUS exhibition of Joshua Mosley's A Vue requires more of a leap to imagining how it would feel. The smooth wax, rough paper, soft cloth, and silky ink are made into one seamlessly smooth surface through Mosley's animation.
To me, the ability of art to access our imagination is part of art's success. In a way, the restriction "please do not touch the art" forces us to use our imagination in a different way. Texture doesn't translate, and the surface of a work of art cannot be imagined to its fullest just by viewing a picture. There is just no replacement for seeing a work of art in person. I've found that seeing a work of art in person doesn't answer all of my questions, but instead opens up my imagination.