“Talking Blind: Museums, Access and the Discursive Turn,” Disability Studies Quarterly, Special Issue on Blindness and Museums, Volume 33, No. 3, 2013
“You’re standing too close to that painting. You have to stand back to really see it,” says a male museum visitor. 1 In her book Sight Unseen Georgina Kleege recounts the story of how a fellow visitor criticized her in this fashion for behaving “inappropriately” during the 1992 Matisse exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. According to this visitor, in Kleege’s words, “there is a right way and a wrong way to see” because “sight provides instantaneous access to reality.” 2 Kleege didn’t get the chance to tell the visitor that she has macular degeneration, and so needed to stand very close to the paintings in order to get even the most general sense of their overall composition. In many ways Kleege’s experience remains emblematic of ongoing problems. The well-established discourse of museum accessibility often works against its own stated goals and I argue that this must be productively destabilized.