Sensory Tour at the Brooklyn Museum of Art

The first ever “Sensory Tour: Immersed in Nature” took place last night at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Several staff members from the museum’s education department put together a tour that explores how sight, smell and touch are used when viewing art. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect since I’ve been to the museum on many occasions and have seen most of the artwork, but I was excited to be a member of this inaugural tour. I had been told by a co-worker that sensory tours often include participants getting placed in a dark room for an extended period of time, but I was assured by the tour guide that this would not happen.

Our first stop was in front of a 19th century painting of a table with fruit and a glass of wine in the middle that had a dark background; I had seen similar pieces in people’s homes. After a few moments, all participants were given a piece of fruit that is seen in the painting. This completely changed my interpretation of the painting. After holding, touching, and smelling the peach I was given, I looked back in the painting and felt like the fruit was real, and I could sense the smell of grapes and oranges and even taste the wine in the center. The picture no longer appeared drab; it all became real.

My brain was also telling me that I was craving fruit, which was not the case before the peach was placed in my hand. We also listened to classical music as we held the fruit and looked at the painting. With three of my senses activated, my mind transformed me to a party where I was picking fruit so real that I could taste it.

The second stop was on the same floor, but this was in the Centennial Room, which houses turn-of-the-century art. We examined a life-sized white marble statue of a nude woman holding a child. Pieces of the marble were passed around, which allowed us to feel the texture of the statue. The third and last stop on the tour was on another floor of the museum with decorative art. The piece we explored was a mannequin wearing an elaborately decorated bodysuit with black sequins and bright red flowers on the legs. The mannequin had a metal cage over its head that was covered in flowers made of metal and other materials.

We were then given a piece of cloth similar to what the mannequin was wearing and a real flower. These objects made me visualize birds chirping and landing on the cage near the flowers. I imagined the mannequin actually walking through a forest with the flower cage on its body, surrounded by nature. We also listened to a recording of the artist explaining the concept of the art, which gave us a better sense of what his ideas were when he created the piece.

This is a great tour even for visually impaired people because they can literally feel and hear the art by using their senses to immerse themselves in the experience. Although no dates are set, the museum’s education department is considering hosting another sensory tour in the future.

–Blayne Jeffries

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