In an exhibition where visitors are implored to experience the art with their hands open and eyes closed, Native American sculptor Michael Naranjo displays bronze and marble figures of people and animals on waist-high plinths for easy reach. The artist insisted that visitors touch the art as another way of sharing his own experience; each sensitively-wrought piece was created from rich imagination as Naranjo lost his sight in 1968 while serving in the US Army in Vietnam. “The artist who sees with his hands” is on at Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, GA until 3 July 2016.
You won’t often see sculpture like this (but you can feel it)
After a brief hesitation, it was easy get into an art exhibition where the visitor is allowed, no, encouraged to touch everything in the room. As with every one of his exhibitions, in “The artist who sees with his hands” sculptor Michael Naranjo made sure that his work is accessible to the broad spectrum of viewers, even those who, like him, can not see.
And lest you are tempted to pity the man, blind and without use of one hand, this is definitely a case where the disabled artist’s lack of sight is not whole picture; instead, it’s the most natural thing to appreciate Naranjo’s blindness whilst at the same time revelling in his vision of the glorious forms from nature shaped in bronze or stone. In fact, the artist seems to have taken well to heart the words of Ovid, written prominently on the gallery wall,
Those things that Nature denied to human sight, she revealed to the eyes of the soul.
At the door, one can pick up a printed exhibition guide as well as an audio guide – with the suggestion that while moving through the display, close your eyes, touch the figures, and listen to the artist talk about his work. As a fully-sighted person, I found it difficult to keep my eyes closed, but I tried anyway, and in those moments, I found the sculpture under my hands to be a complete and beautiful mystery with its smooth contours and surprising crevices. It could’ve been any lumpy thing beneath my fingertips yet I opened my eyes again to be astonished at how cannily Naranjo had carved out a woman’s face, a bear, a horse, an eagle.
The skill that Naranjo amply demonstrates certainly has roots in his creative family; born to Native American parents in Santa Clara Pueblo in 1944, Michael Naranjo was raised in Taos, New Mexico. His mother is renowned ceramic artist Rose Naranjo and even his sister Nora Naranjo-Morse’s work can be seen at the Heard Museum of American Indian Art and History in Dallas. Naranjo started learning ceramics under the tutelage of his mother and also spent much of his free time camping, hunting, fishing, and playing baseball. The rich memories from the experiences in his youth provide much inspiration for his artwork today.
Naranjo’s exhibition is one of those rare experiences that really must be felt with the hands as well as the heart, so if you’re in the northwest corner of the Peach State [Georgia], be sure to stop in Cartersville and head over to the Booth Museum.
More about Michael Naranjo and Booth Museum
- Read more about Michael Narajno on ArtFortune.com – Native American from New Mexico, Naranjo is a US Army veteran, blinded in his service in the Vietnam War
- “Michael Naranjo: The artist who sees with his hands” at Booth Western Art Museum – ends 3 July 2016.
- View/download a floor plan/exhibition guide to the museum [PDF]
Exhibition details: “Michael Naranjo: The artist who sees with his hands” is in the temporary galleries at Booth Western Art Museum, 501 Museum Drive, Cartersville, GA 30120. Ends 3 July 2016. Paid admission (concessions available), step-free access.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday – 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Thursday – 10:00 am to 8:00 pm
Sunday – 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
*Closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving and Christmas.