DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, one place where you are most certainly going to be on camera is inside an art museum. They want to make sure you're not touching anything. Then again, there is a museum in Spain where you are encouraged to touch the paintings. It is Madrid's famous Prado Museum. They've duplicated some of their most renowned works in 3-D to create a vivid experience for the blind. Lauren Frayer reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIO GUIDE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: "Welcome to Touching the Prado," the audio guide says. This is an exhibit for people who can't normally enjoy paintings.
GUADELUPE IGLESIAS: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "Since I went blind, I've been to museums maybe twice," says Guadelupe Iglesias, who lost her vision 14 years ago to retinal disease. "I can listen to the audio guide and imagine, remember what the paintings look like." Today, Iglesias is back at her beloved Prado Museum, rubbing her hands all over copies of the masterpieces she used to view from a distance.
IGLESIAS: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "I used to come to the Prado all the time," she says. "I love Velazquez. I used to bring my daughter and her friends here to see this very painting." We stand in front of a 3-D copy of Velazquez's 17th century painting "Apollo In The Forge Of Vulcan." As a tour guide describes the layout, Iglesias runs her fingers over a prickly crown of laurels on the God Apollo's head.
IGLESIAS: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: Most visitors to this exhibit are not actually vision-impaired. The museum provides opaque glasses for them, like blindfolds.
ISABEL O'DONNELL: It's kind of weird. I sort of kept checking over the top of the glasses to see what I was touching 'cause you kind of can't tell.
FRAYER: Isabel O'Donnell is a college student visiting from Buffalo, N.Y.
O'DONNELL: I think it's a really cool way to experience art, even if you're not vision-impaired. I like art, and I always kind of wonder what art feels like, like touching paintings seems like a really cool idea. It's more like what the figures sort of feel like if they were real.
FRAYER: The Prado consulted Spain's national organization for the blind on which paintings could best be adapted for touch. They started with a high-resolution photo and then painted on top of it, says curator Fernando Perez Suescun.
FERNANDO PEREZ SUESCUN: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "It's a special paint designed to react to ultraviolet light and rise," he says. "Like yeast when you're baking, it creates volume and texture." As we exit the museum, the curator Suescun says he still can't shake the feeling he's encouraging people to break the rules.
SUESCUN: (Speaking Spanish).
FRAYER: "I'm actually telling people to put their fingerprints all over the paintings," he says, laughing. This is the only exhibit where the Prado has installed dispensers of hand sanitizer and water dishes for seeing-eye dogs. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
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