The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum is pleased to present Handheld, a group exhibition that explores the contemporary meaning of touch by charting artists’, designers’, and makers’ various responses to objects scaled to the hand. Including works by Alma Allen, Aldo Bakker, Kathy Butterly, David Clarke, Iris Eichenberg, Laura Fischer, Jennifer Lee, Shari Mendelson, Jonathan Muecke, Ron Nagle, Kay Sekimachi, Christopher Taylor, Anne Wilson, Thaddeus Wolfe, and Shinya Yamamura, Handheld, organized by Elizabeth Essner, will be on view May 20, 2018 to January 13, 2019.

Touch is, in many ways, our most intimate sense, and our hands are its primary agents. Hands are meant to hold lots of things: pencils, babies, heavy pieces of furniture, other people’s hands. Yet, for many of us in today’s world, the feeling in our hands that is most familiar is the easy weight of our handheld devices. Today, touch increasingly takes the form of a swipe, where sensation is often ignored in favor of access to the flat visual landscapes of our own selection—a place where we can look at imagery as much as we want, but we cannot touch. However, as we think of traditional forms for our most precious things the words of grandmothers echo worldwide, “Look but don’t touch.” This surprising parallel between the domestic and the digital offers viewers a point of departure to consider the relationship between haptic and optic, hand and eye, in contemporary life.

Handheld takes a multifarious approach—the hand as means of creation, a formal frame of reference, and for the viewer, a source of both delight and tension as they experience sensual objects in familiar domestic forms, scaled for touch, that can be looked upon but not felt.

Materials are central to Handheld. Clay and metal can, quite literally, record fingerprints and movement, glass is blown with our breath, and fiber traces the finger’s work. These materials also happen to be those most familiar to our everyday: the feel of our favorite coffee cup, our faucet tap, our sheets as we climb into bed. Seeking questions rather than answers, Handheld uses the common language of the domestic to examine the complex role of the hand.

Elizabeth Essner is a Brooklyn-based independent curator and writer focused on modern and contemporary design, decorative arts, and craft. Recently a curatorial fellow for the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, she received her MA from the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design, History, Material Culture.

Handheld is one chapter in a series of concurrent exhibitions brought together under the title The Domestic Plane: New Perspectives on Tabletop Art Objects, all of which explore the nature of small objects and our relationship to them.