Sarah Rush

Optical Inclusion: Warhol Museum Gives More Than Visuals

Sarah Rush

Imagine if every time you visited a museum, it was difficult or impossible to see the artwork in all its splendor. Imagine what it’s like for those who are blind or visually impaired. How can they have the opportunity to experience art?

The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is giving all visitors a chance to experience art in an innovative and unique way. The museum showcases the work of the famous ’50s and ’60s pop painter, filmmaker and sculptor Andy Warhol, best known for his Campbellā€™s Soup Cans series and his portraits of Marilyn Monroe and other pop culture icons. Including 900 paintings, nearly 100 sculptures, 4,000 photographs and much more, the museum firmly believes that people of all abilities deserve to experience the work of this renowned and eclectic artist.

The museum launched two initiatives at the end of last year to make the museum more accessible to all visitors: a free iOS audio app as well as tactile reproductions of numerous works. The app, called Out Loud, is a customizable guide designed to replace typical audio guides found at many museums. Out Loud automatically detects the artwork closest to your phone and explains how the piece looks and its inspirations, as well as general information about Warhol’s life. This makes Out Loud attractive not only to the visually impaired, but also to any person seeking extra details about Warhol and his work. The app designers worked directly with individuals from the visually impaired community to ensure that Out Loud would suit their needs and preferences.

The museum’s second accessibility effort lies on its seventh floor, where newly created reliefs of Warhol’s most influential pieces allow visitors to experience his art in a way typically prohibited in museums: through touch. Created using a high-speed cutting machine, these tactile models replicate precise nuances found in the original pieces. The museum recommends exploring the reliefs while listening to Out Loud: the app explains the best way to feel the reproductions in order to fully understand them (such as starting in the left-hand corner and moving your fingers first to the right then upwards). Since the app’s launch and the installation of the reliefs, user feedback has been extremely positive.

These initiatives belong to a current museum trend of making exhibits more approachable to all visitors—for example, check out these museums designed to aid those with memory loss conditions. It seems that experiencing art is no longer limited to simply looking at it. Now you can hear it and touch it, too.

Did You Know?
Currently spreading throughout Asia, 3D museums are new interactive museums designed to place visitors in optical illusion exhibits for immersive fun with art and photography. Guests pose inside exhibits to create memorable 3D versions of paintings. Examples of 3D museums include the Alive Museum in Singapore and the Trickeye Museum, which has several locations across Asia.

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