Light Touch 

Hands-on exhibit at the Brooks lets visitors feel the art.

Art galleries and museums almost always have a strict "no touching" policy. No matter how tempting it may be to caress the cool marble of a smooth sculpture, it's hands-off.

That all changes with a new exhibition of work by sculptor John McIntire. Beginning November 8th, at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, "A Tactile Experience" will give visitors a chance to touch 13 pieces of sculpture made from fiberglass, black walnut, soapstone, and various marbles.

McIntire says many of the sculptures were created within the past two years, but at least one has been in his collection for more than 35 years.

"It's a realistic piece called Miss Jackson Avenue. I had just gotten to Memphis, and I saw this woman standing at a bus stop," McIntire says. "She had her hair up in pink curlers and was wearing a house coat and big pink slippers. I sketched it right there in the car."

At the time, McIntire taught 3-D design and sculpture at Memphis College of Art. "As soon as I got back to the school, I made it in clay and then cast it in fiberglass," McIntire says.

"It's a feel-the-difference piece," he continues. "She is very rough and [visitors] can feel the eyes, nose and feet. The others are very abstract. They are going to have to use their imagination on those."

Also on display will be Lady Brooks, an abstract piece carved from scrap marble from the Brooks Museum. Two of the sculptures, Pink Palace Games and Orb, are oversized children's games similar to handheld mazes in which the player leads a ball through to the end.

Karleen Gardner is the Brooks' curator of education. "The whole tactile experience is much different from the visual experience, so we're interested in letting people have a chance to do that," she says. "There's no touching in the museum, so this is kind of the antithesis of the other exhibitions."

In addition to the hands-on policy, Braille and large-print labels will identify each piece, giving the visually impaired greater access to the exhibit.

"Our mission is to enrich the lives of our diverse community, and this exhibition plays into that," Gardner says. "It's making art accessible to a lot of people who couldn't experience art in a traditional gallery."

"A Tactile Experience" will be on display in the museum's education gallery and is set to run through January 4th.

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