“Please don’t touch the artwork” is a phrase we often hear or see plastered on the wall next to masterpieces in museums. Some contemporary artists, however, have expanded their ideas of how artwork can be perceived to make their pieces more inclusive to everyone through the use of 3D printing. Museums enforce no touching of artwork in order to protect the historical artifacts on display from being damaged in addition to ensuring that their monetary value is protected. For the vast majority of art lovers, however, viewing pieces from behind glass frames or displays has little effect on their understanding of the work. By using 3D printing technology, those who are blind or visually impaired are now able to experience classic pieces of art through their sense of touch.
In fact, not only are observers allowed to touch the artwork, but they are encouraged to do so. The most recent of these pieces is a 3D version of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss,” which was put on display at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna.
This touchable version of the famous symbolist painting is not exactly identical to the original. The sculpture is stark white, completely lacking the bright yellows, greens and reds of Klimt’s classic work. Since this new version is intended to be enjoyed by the visually impaired, only texture—not color—is used to survey the piece.
While the practice of creating touchable replicas of classic artwork is still relatively new, this is not the first time museums have turned to 3D printing as a way to extend the enjoyment of art to the visually impaired. The Prado Museum in Madrid hosted an exhibit titled “Touching the Prado” in 2015. This exhibit featured 3D versions of the museum’s most famous artwork, including pieces by Goya, El Greco and Velázquez.
In this collection, however, the touchable versions were intended to recreate the colors of the original artwork as closely as possible. “You have to remember that not everyone who is registered blind can see nothing at all,” Head Designer at Estudios Durero—the group that designed the Prado’s touchable art—Cristina Velasco said. “Many have at least a little vision. For this reason, we knew we had to replicate the original colors as closely as possible.”
Although the 3D version of “The Kiss” lacks color, the varying texture of the sculpture intends to create an image for all who touch it to experience. In addition, most 3D printers can print this replica of “The Kiss” as long as they have access to the correct files.
Many people hope that this revolutionary step in how the world views artwork will lead more museums and galleries to create 3D touchable versions of their famous masterpieces to put on display. Art is a form of expression that everyone deserves to experience, and expanding the amount of people that will have access to it will only better the world as a whole.