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Alexander Residence: Modern Art and the 4 year old

Monday, 18 July 2011

Modern Art and the 4 year old

This weekend, my Dad and I, took 4yo Miss L to an exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, inspired by Jean Genet, a French writer and playwright.  I'm bored with stereotypical pre school activities, my cultural life is dwindling, and besides, I wanted to see what Miss L would make of a modern art gallery.

There were a few hiccups, like when the gallery attendant politely asked Miss L stopped taking photos of Giacometti's multi million pound bronze sculpture 'Man Pointing' on her Vtech camera. (Just for the record, before you think 'wow those vtechs have great picture quality' and rush out to buy one, this is not her picture).
Giacometti -  Man Pointing

We also had a not so profound discussion about Man Pointing, but hey it's early days.

Me: What's he doing?
L:    Pointing
Me: I wonder why?
L:    Dunno.
Me: What's it made of?
L:     Hmmm...Plastic.

In another room a small child was in tears after a gallery assistant had to rush in and coax him off one of the exhibits, a stool covered in newspaper print. Easy mistake to make when your little, in a room with both 'art' chairs and 'everyday' chairs.

Miss L was also fascinated by a video installation of a woman in a fur coat.  I stood next to her, slightly nervous about where the film was heading, attempting distractions.  But, perhaps sensing this, she dug her heels in and watched it to the end, where it was suggested that either the coat brings her immense pleasure, or comes alive and kills her.  We discussed the evils of the fur trade and moved on.

Genet was an advocate for the Black Panther Party, and for the Palestinian cause, the focus for the second half of the exhibition.  Trying to explain the political murals of Emory Douglas, Culture Minister for the Black Panther Party was challenging, but not impossible.  The sheer scale of it excited her. 
Miss L by a mural by Emory Douglas
I only just managed to stop Miss L picking up one of Mona Hatoum’s glazed ceramic hand-grenades in various colours, but this led to an interesting discussion of shapes and textures
Mona Hatoum by DARAT AL FUNUN
So my top tips for visiting galleries with under fives (a.k.a. notes to self with the benefit of hindsight).

Dad and Miss L
1. Explain the rules and the space before you go in.  What is the space about? What can/can't you do?  Oh, and these rules 'might' have to change a little as you go round.
2. Try and clue up before hand via the website, so you can understand the exhibition yourself and interpret it for a small child simultaneously. 
3.  Rather than explain ask questions.  At first answers might be brief, but questions encouraging the mind to wander independently. Think colours, textures, emotions, objects.
4.  If there's a visual brochure suggest children use it to spot the exhibits as they go round. Or play i spy.  Where permitted, cameras are a good way to document what they liked, to talk about later.  Brochures are good for cutting and sticking at home.  A whole day of art gallery themed fun.
5.  Look out for child friendly activities.  Nottingham Contemporary has a family room and activities on all over the summer.  

This trip has inspired my Little Legacy for this week.  More on Thursday.

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At 18 July 2011 at 20:05 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love the pic of Miss L by the mural. I really enjoy taking my boys to museums, but it is very hard to get them to not interact, ie break, the exhibits! By the way thanks for your kind comment on my blog x

At 18 July 2011 at 22:57 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fabulous! Love the ideas for preparation - kids can get so much out of so called adult things.Don't think I'd try it with my 2 year old though. I wanted to take my kids to the Banksy exhibition at Bristol museum last year but standing for 2 hours plus in a queue just wasn't going to work.

At 19 July 2011 at 12:51 , Blogger The Alexander Residence said...

I know my two year old boy would find the rules impossible, but I am cross I missed out on the last exhibition, which had a dead elephant which he would have liked to see ( I think)
Banksy would be interesting to see, would also like to see them for real when we finally get round to visiting my brother in London. Whole set of discussions about drawing on Walls ;)

At 19 July 2011 at 20:12 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really like this post! May have to wait a year or so but can't wait to see what Gibby makes of stuff like this x

At 20 July 2011 at 09:23 , Anonymous Honest Mum said...

Superb post. Please can I come around with you the next time you visit a gallery as I think I'd learn a lot! Great tips and some fabulous, thought provoking art work.

At 26 July 2011 at 15:44 , Anonymous Kirsty said...

Sounds great. We haven't been to an art gallery for a while, although now that both kids can walk really fast I think I might wait until D is more able to resist the temptation to touch things. We really like the Baltic Gallery in Gateshead, they have big exhibition spaces and a children's area with lots of creative toys and occasional art activities. Actually, the Laing in Newcastle has a really good kids' space too, which we always go to to give them a break if we've dragged them into town.


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