Tuesday, September 1

Touchable Venus

The newly installed "touch statue", depicting the goddess Venus leaving the bath. It is a replica of a work by 19th century sculptor Antonio Canova.

Ever since the Villa reopened in 2006, the Education department has been working to develop a "touchables" program at the museum. The idea of touchables in art museums has been around for awhile, but it has gained real popularity in recent years. We have been incorporating touchables like paint brushes, sculpting tools, minerals, and so on in our daily teaching for some time now. This month we raised the touchables program to a whole new level with the installation of a "touch statue"--that is, a statue that visitors can touch. The "touch statue," of course, is not an artifact but a modern replica. Actually, if I want to be strictly accurate it is a replica of a replica of a replica. Did you get that? Yeah, me neither. When you say it out loud it sounds like you need a little flow chart to understand it. Let me attempt to clarify: The statue is a late 20th century CE replica of an 19th century CE copy of a 2nd century CE Roman copy of a 4th century BCE Greek sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite. In other words, we copied an 18th century sculpture that was a copy of an ancient Roman sculpture that was a copy of an ancient Greek sculpture.

I hope that makes sense. Anyhow, this touchable statue was recently installed in the West Belvedere at the end of the Outer Peristyle garden. Part of the fun of working in a museum is getting to see what goes on behind the scenes, so I thought I would share a little of it with you with a look at the installation of the new touch statue.

Venus in the stone laboratory, being stabilized & secured for her move to the West Belvedere.

Moving through an underground passage at the museum.

A careful ride down the ramp in the Outdoor Classical Theater.

Down another ramp into the Herb Garden.

Through the Herb Garden.

Finally, at the West Belvedere.

As you can see from the pictures, the Villa site isn't exactly designed for easy installation of objects outside of the museum galleries. Venus' journey to the West Belvedere was cautious and slow. Part of the motivation of placing her so far from the museum itself is to make sure visitors view this location as totally separate from the museum space, where touching is most definitely taboo. Keeping it out of the museum galleries helps to ensure that there is no (potentially confusing) exception to the strict "do not touch" policy inside the museum. The idea we hope to communicate is that the this is a space outside the museum where touching is allowed.

Now, maybe you are less cynical than I and this thought has not occurred to you up to this point, but I have to say I was pretty amused that a statue of a nude woman was chosen as a "touchable" statue. I mean, is it just me or is inviting people--ahem, especially men--to touch a statue of a naked woman just inviting trouble? (One word: Breasts.) And the fact that Venus happens to be posed in such a way to suggest she's trying to cover herself from the viewer only adds to my opinion that the choice of this Venus as the touch statue is just all sorts of wrong. I would love to say I trusted visitors not to be lewd, but given the irresistible combination of being able to touch and take pictures, I know better.

I'm sure this won't be the last you hear of the Villa's touch statue. Once the programming around it gets going there will be stories to share--of that I have no doubt.

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