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Arts and Entertainment

Please Touch All Of The Art At This West Hollywood Show

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While some galleries employ velvet ropes, stern signs and imposing security guards to keep you away from the art, a new show in West Hollywood asks you to 'Please Touch the Art.' Opening on Friday, June 24 at Cantor Fine Art in the Pacific Design Center, 'Please Touch the Art' features pieces from nearly 20 artists that are all meant to be caressed, handled, manipulated, tapped and otherwise touched.

Gallery co-owner Sam Cantor tells LAist that the idea for this tactile show began with a documentary he co-directed about a blind sculptor and furniture maker named George Wurtzel.

Cantor's background is in art direction, and he previously worked on websites and commercials for the likes of Nike and Coca-Cola in Portland. About six months ago, he founded Cantor Fine Art with his father, Lawrence Cantor, who has been in the gallery business for the last 30 years.

"We saw a need for better storytelling and visual communication, so we launched this gallery to help artists tell better stories and for those artists that deserve [more] recognition," he says.

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Through running the gallery, Cantor met a Laguna Beach artist named Andrew Myers who makes screw paintings. He drills the screws into wood at varying depths, and then paints the top. They look like this:

"[Myers] told us this story about being inspired by a blind man who came into his studio and touched his artwork, which is the biggest taboo in the art world," Cantor says.

One day, Cantor suggested they try to find the Wurtzel. Figuring Laguna Beach was small enough that Wurtzel would be easy to track down, Cantor was surprised when months of effort led him nowhere. He sent a deluge of emails in his search, and even got kicked out of a braille art gallery. How does one get kicked out of an art gallery? Well, by touching the art, which was confusing to Cantor as braille is experienced via touch. Finally, someone forwarded one of his messages to Jennifer Sachs, director of development and marketing for the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco. Sachs knew Wurtzel, and Wurtzel reached out to Cantor, who immediately flew up to meet the artist at his home in Napa, where he also works as a teacher at Enchanted Hills Camp, a summer camp for the visually impaired. Wurtzel did not disappoint.

"He is the coolest guy ever," Cantor says. "He makes all of his own furniture and certain objets on his lathe, and they're beautiful and perfect."

Cantor worked on a documentary about Wurtzel, which was released about a month ago. In it, Wurtzel discusses tactile art, saying he is working on converting a former grape crushing barn into the Tactile Art Center, a space for the blind to feel, display and sell art.

"I've been told not to touch sculptures that were fully intended to be outside in the elements where the pigeons can shit on them. I am fully convinced that I am less of an encumbrance to the long-term existence of that piece than pigeon shit is," Wurtzel laughs.

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and Cantor says many people were interested in meeting Wurtzel. So, the idea for the Please Touch The Art show was hatched as both an opportunity to explore the intersection of touch and art, as well as a chance for Wurtzel to meet his fans.

One very cool project in the show is UCLA's Augmented Reality Sandbox. Users place their hands into a sandbox, and an augmented reality overlay allows them to watch the topography change as they manipulate the sand. You can create rivers and mountains and even volcanos.

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The Braille Project will display a series of works that appear as abstract paintings, but when touched reveal poems in braille. Another piece from 3D Photoworks recreates famous 2-D artworks—such as the Mona Lisa—in 3-D, allowing guests to run their hands over the images. Artist James Peterson of Art + Contraptions is bringing his 3-D piece, Sessilanoid, which is described as an interactive sculpture that "hypothesizes what happens as synthetic lifeforms take the place of the organic while exploring the balance between pollution and sustainability."

The opening reception will include the chance to meet Wurtzel and some of the other artists, and a performance from the Academy of Music for the Blind, to which 10 percent of all proceeds from the show will be donated.

Cantor Fine Art is located in Unit B274 at the Pacific Design Center at 8687 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood. 'Please Touch the Art' opens June 24, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Otherwise the gallery is open Mon.—Fri., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The show will remain up for two months.

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