Rant 62: Touching Causes Damage

Rant 62: Touching Causes Damage Martyn Cross, Children of the Damned, 2009

Can galleries appeal to a broad audience without dumbing down? And should they impose stricter rules on children (and their parents) in order to preserve the work on show? Paul Harfleet delves into the sticky world of toddlers' handprints in the museum.

Education is the cornerstone of the gallery, with the intention to broaden knowledge for all.

The challenges of funding cuts and financial streamlining will force institutions to prove their inclusivity and defend their validity and existence to the wider society who endeavour to represent, reflect and educate.

We all want our society to engage with art and culture in an informed and intelligent way, so what could possibly be wrong with this?

The problem is that a new trend of appealing to the lowest common denominator appears to be patronising us all. More and more frequently a new voice of condescension dominates the institution. 

Signage around galleries and museums adopts the tone of a nursery school teacher; ‘touching causes damage’ replaces the ‘please do not touch’ universal mantra. 

This minor shift in tone speaks volumes to the audience, suggesting a preferred guideline rather than an explicit instruction designed to protect and preserve the artwork for future generations.

Whilst playgrounds lie fallow, the gallery is more frequently packed with bickering toddlers who are bored and unengaged, screaming through museums, sticky hands outstretched, art work and relic in danger of being toppled and kicked. 

Brave invigilators attempt to herd children away from delicate work, much to the consternation of half-attentive parents. 

The once hushed atmosphere of the gallery has been compromised by the new open-house inclusivity of the kiddy-friendly museum.

The pondering well-behaved child who enjoys the abstract visual stimulation of the gallery and museum should be welcomed. 

However, when a toddler naturally becomes rambunctious, political correctness deems that the institution no longer has the right to chastise them, thus overriding the function of the gallery as a location for reflection and consideration.

Contributed by Paul Harfleet

Paul Harfleet is London based artist.


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