This Gallery Wants You to Touch the Art

Typically, the last thing galleries and museums want to see you do is touch the artwork. And since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, that became even a bigger taboo. But at an upcoming exhibition at the Henry Moore Studios & Gardens in the suburbs of London, visitors will be allowed — and even encouraged — to feel the displays with their bare hands.

Curated by the artist and author Edmund de Waal, the exhibition This Living Hand will open on May 19 after more than a year of delays due to the United Kingdom’s recurrent COVID-19 lockdowns. The exhibition will explore the role of touch and the iconography of the hand in the works of Henry Moore, a famed British sculptor who emphatically believed in the importance of tactile experience in enjoying works of art, particularly sculptures.

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Installation view with Henry Moore’s “Mother and Child” (1978) (foreground) and “Reclining Figure: Hand” (1979 ) (background), flanked by Edmund de Waal’s stone benches “tacet X and XIII” (2020)

“In the past year, our hands and our experience of touch have taken on a whole new meaning,” said de Waal in a press release for the exhibition.

“To be able to invite people to encounter Moore’s sculptures through touch is now even more extraordinary,” he continued. “In this exhibition, we see a life of reflection on how hands become sculptures. We are returned to what knowledge our own hands hold.”

The exhibition will feature a selection of sculptures by Moore, which visitors will be invited to caress with their hands, as well as a group of drawings and sculptural works charting Moore’s interest in hands as subject matter. Works on display will include bronzes like “King and Queen” (1952-53) and “Reclining Figure: Hand” (1979), in addition to studies that Moore had made of his own and others’ hands.

A 1968 portrait of Henry Moore with raised hands, captured by John Hedgecoe, welcomes visitors to the exhibition.

As COVID-19 safety remains a concern, de Waal has created a stone washbasin for visitors to cleanse their hands before entering the gallery. Carved into a rock, the “stone for two hands and water” takes as its form a Japanese tsukubai, traditionally located at the entrance of holy sites for visitors to purify themselves by the ritual of washing hands and mouth.

The exhibition will also include a series of sculptural benches, carved in Horton stone, made by de Waal for visitors to pause and reflect on what should definitely be a touching experience.

Edmund de Waal, “stone for two hands and water” (2021)


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