Please do not touch

From: Friday, 17 May 2013

To: Sunday, 01 September 2013

Place: North Gallery

An open window to explore visitors' behaviour and attitudes to artworks and to the museum itself

Curator: Jorge Luis Marzo

Artists in the project: Guillermo Trujillano, Joan Fontcuberta, Mireia c. Saladrigues, Andrés Hispano, Félix Pérez-Hita, Oier Gil, Sandra Amutxastegi, Pau Figueres y Arturo “fito” Rodríguez

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Most of us keep a prudent distance from works of art in museums, as we are constantly reminded to do by guards, security ropes and signs in exhibition rooms. However, if we are looking at images that are not artworks or which are copies, then there is no reason why anybody or anything should prevent us from getting up close to them. Indeed, we are presented with such images all the time, as they appear on the screens we touch incessantly with our fingertips. The unique, artistic or heritage value of an image or object means, then, that it is transformed into an icon and a system of censorship is set up around it: you must not touch it, you must speak in hushed tones, you must not take photographs, no food or drink is allowed, etc. The museum itself is also responsible for this situation. We can hang on the walls any image that is completely unconnected to art and immediately people will go up and look at it and engage in certain ritual postures, putting their hands behind their back, bending forwards, and so on.

The history of art has made us accustomed to observing works ‘in themselves', since they are there to be looked at, and we pay no heed to the fact that someone has to view them, to respond to them. When it is a matter of a spectator, we tend to judge their response, appraising their artistic or intellectual education and their sensitivity as they become engrossed in the work. However, members of the public may have other criteria for interpreting certain objects or images and may respond in a way regarded as inappropriate for a museum, thereby flouting the rules that it imposes.

Please Do not Touch is an exhibition based on the detailed recording of incidents in ARTIUM's gallery rooms, as reported by museum staff since the centre opened in 2002. This record is an open window that provides an opportunity to explore visitors' behaviour and attitudes to artworks and to the institution of the museum itself. The purpose of the exhibition is not to judge the quality of these attitudes but to analyse the range of perceptions that the world of art gives rise to and to observe the way that social complexity is displayed in such a rule-bound place as a museum.

These incidents all reveal the tension that exists in response to authority and discipline; they speak to us of the removal of objects or even of violence committed against them, and they comment on the function of the guards and guides, on the value of originals and on the public themselves as an exhibit. This opens up fascinating avenues that enable all of us to analyse the ultimate purpose of museums and the objects they contain.

The exhibition, curated by Jorge Luis Marzo, brings together various interventions by Guillermo Trujillano, Joan Fontcuberta, Mireia c. Saladrigues, Andrés Hispano, Félix Pérez-Hita, Arturo fito Rodríguez, plus the special collaboration of the participants in the Contemporary Art Programme at EPA Paulo Freire, the Reading Workshop at the Ignacio Aldecoa Cultural Centre and the Street and Youth Education Programmes of the City Council, all located in Vitoria-Gasteiz. They have been invited to record photographically and present the attitudes of visitors to the museum during the period in which the show is open.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication that will enlarge on these issues. An online archive has also been open since February 2012, containing a detailed list of writings and audiovisual material from a wide range of sources that offer a broad look at the history and current state of relations between the public and artworks. This archive can be viewed and commented on freely.

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