A few weeks ago I was in London and I was looking at art. Particularly, I was interested in seeing the latest batch of works, showcased by a large collection of galleries, in one of the art fairs that was taking place in the city. Europe, and I include the UK in this, is a great place to see children integrated at all levels into culture. In museums, galleries, musical performances, theatre, even book readings, etc... there are always seemingly children involved. And, this is a good thing in my opinion. In the USA we harp on alot about our children receiving art or music training - about being 'cultured'. But, what does this mean when many of our children are mostly exposed to art through what is most easily accessible - pop music and mainstream cinema... if not just the academic expose. Well, I don't want to sound indignant or arrogant..... but wait... I will: that is nothing to what they could be seeing and hearing... We are a nation of pop culture habitualists. Our taste, or interest, in art as a nation is largely like our taste in food: it is sorely lacking in nutrients and is filled with sugar and salt!
OK, now I understand that you are not this kind of parent - nor do you wish upon your children a world of endless mind-numbing mumbo jumbo ... the likes of which MTV or Hollywood often present you with. My fear for my kids is not the bad language, or possible sex, or gross materialism - I think I can handle keeping them from that rubbish. No, my worry is that they are surrounded by meagre and limited associations with art (and culture) - senseless and manipulative stuff that is already starting to creep in on them by the age of 2 or 3! Can anyone say 'celebrity culture'!!
So, let's get them out of that trap! Let's do something different. Let's let them see the more of the subtle things this world has to offer.... let's, in short, make more of an effort. Let's take a chance.
I was thinking all of this while standing outside the Frieze Art Fair in London this last October.... apparently, I don't have much else to think about.... but, what made me think of it was the large proportion of children of all ages that were taking in the fair with their parents. And, don't be fooled, this isn't like some old musty place with old men discussing the merits of a paint chip - this is CONTEMPORARY ART!!! And, in contemporary art, there's something for everyone. Much of what I saw at the Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park, and the Zoo Art Fair over at the Royal Academy, would naturally appeal to the young. Now, these art fairs (in case you are trying to make an excuse that travelling to Europe from the USA is way TO MUCH EFFORT to get the kids to see art) are just about everywhere now. Most major cities host something like it. There are fairs or expositions in San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, New Orleans, etc... you name it - some larger metropolis is hosting something. And, many of us are in reach of one of these urban (maybe not even urban) centers. In New York City, it is the Armory Show, or Scope Art Fair, or Pulse Art Fair, etc that land each year in a select part of the city to showcase new art - almost exactly at the same time. There are people from all over the country, and internationally, that show up to take the pulse of the current market... and it can be quite fun. You don't even have to be associated with the art world to take in the fairs. You just have to have admission prices and some patience with crowds. But, it pays off if you try it.
I took the kids with me last Spring to see the fairs/shows in NYC. I like to even try and take them round the galleries in general - but this effort is much more concise and educational. For some reason (perhaps what I suspect above) there aren't as many children at the NYC versions, but this didn't stop me. The kids like nothing better than crowds, and all sorts of strange things (and people too), to look at. Sure, there is some shirt tugging at times, and you have to take care not to let them destroy a $25,000 display of stuffed animals resembling a Hydrogen Bomb Blast because one of the teddy bears was super cute! This is even a great place to take babies in strollers - nap time is a good idea... you feast your eyes and they get to be pushed around. The only downside, besides the kids destroying a piece of art or stepping on a performance artist (and this can be minimalized by telling/warning you children beforehand what to expect or making it clear that bad behaviour and touching is not appropriate... which works fairly well with my kids!) is that they have no problem telling you, or anyone around you (the gallerist usually) what they think of the art. And, if you're lucky - as I noticed in at least three galleries in the Frieze Art Fair in London - there are some exhibits that specifically ask for children to interact. There was one in particular, by an artist whose name now escapes me, who had a piece that was like a moving kaleidoscope on the front - and from behind your child would ride a bicycle in place to generate its changes.
At the Armory Show in NYC the kids had a great time discovering things. There was the teddy bear thing, but also a massive replica of a knight's sword, a large gaudily decorated structure (like a fort) made of streamers, coloured paper, stuck on bits, etc.... I hate to admit it, but I let the kids take a piece of streamer from it..... I figured there was so much of the stuff all over the place that nobody would miss a piece here or there. There was even a display that was made from candy and the kids had great fun in taking a piece (maybe two).
My suggestion is to tag team with a partner, keep an eye of where the refreshments are being served, and expect to keep a fairly consistent pace. I even had some time to engage in discussions about paint chips too, something I must admit an affinity towards (whoever said I wasn't a bit boring). You'll see all sorts of wonderful things - many you might think are crap - but some surprises to. And, in my humble opinion - let the kids rip away with their obvious and unintended comments, even if they might seem a bit disparaging. Trust me, the kids are helping the art world (and history) by doing so. I make a point to ask them what they think. And, sometimes there are subtle things happening that only a kid might be aware of - something in our conditioning over the years we might have forgotten to see. Obviously, I wouldn't suggest the same treatment in the middle of an opera, or ballet, or book reading, or play .... but in a venue like an art fair....LET THEM AT IT!!!
Anyway, it looks (and is from my experience) like you can equally have fun, see new things, engage in odd rituals, connect with the kids, educate them and yourselves, and much more - all in one days activity. And, though you are not expected to, you just might find a new taste (or rediscovered taste) for collecting contemporary art. Don't be put off by much of the bohemian glamour you might witness - especially at the smaller fairs, there is something priced for all budgets! Have fun, and perhaps this early Spring we'll see you in NYC with your kids too! I plan on it! And.... oh yeah.... if NYC isn't your kind of thing - and you are traveling to warmer climes this winter for a holiday... well.... there's always the largely popular Art Basel Miami Beach art fair in Florida starting the week after Thanksgiving. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like the sight of a stuffy gallerist seen walking around by the pool in their bright orange bathing costume..... hah!
Try these websites for more info: