It is the summer holidays, as you will probably have noticed by the hordes of noisy children and fed up adults crowding your local attraction. Being the natural tiger mother that I am, I decided to take a day off from wall to wall Wii and schlep the kids up to town for a bit of cultural appreciation. I met up with my cousin in law and together we shepherded four children under 5 round an art gallery.
Like many things in life, the thought of this made my knees sweat with anxiety. But once we were out there, doing, it was fantastic. The kids genuinely enjoyed looking at and talking about the art. Admittedly there was a false start before lunchtime that was remedied with vast amounts of picnic food. Never try and engage a hungry child in higher things. Once the crisps had been demolished and one of our number had wee’d in the bushes, we decamped to Victoria Tower Gardens to let off some steam. The idea that a lovely children’s playground might exist within sight of the Houses of Parliament boggles my mind, but there it is (unicorn just out of shot):
There is a sandpit, a water pump, a couple of swings, a musical jumping thing and some natural clambering equipment. The playground design displays a refreshingly laidback attitude to health and safety, with a slide that goes like grease off a spoon and a roundabout like the revolving ‘dancefloor’ at the Foundry:
Aside from the lovely playground, Victoria Tower Gardens also has a monument to the abolition of slavery (you can see it in the first photo, the multicoloured cupola type thing) and a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Seriously, this is my kind of park. Everyone should go there, although perhaps not all at the same time.
Once the children had worn themselves out and sustained a suitable number of minor injuries, it was time to return to Tate Britain for a second stab at culture. This time was much more successful. The two biggest small people loved looking for specific items in paintings (‘find a man with red socks! find a lady holding a squirrel!’) and soon started suggesting their own, although I didn’t spot anyone battling Bowser. The two smaller smalls enjoyed making lots of noise, trying to touch the exhibits and twanging the string barriers that Tate staff have thoughtfully put out at toddler height to stop people touching the exhibits.
Tate Britain has been rehung since I last visited, a shameful amount of time ago. The galleries run in chronological order so now you can wander through art history and follow the flow of development. The Henry Moores were an instant hit with everyone, interestingly, although my son ultimately preferred the Chapman Brothers’ fast food carvings because “the sculptures that weren’t funny were really good, but the ones that were funny and had lots of crazy beards were funny AND good”. As I stood in front of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, shivering at the power it still retains to unnerve, I asked my son to tell me what he thought of it. He considered, and then said “That one in the middle looks like a bird with four legs and a bum that looks like its face.”
I don’t pretend to have any understanding of art, art history or artistic techniques. But I do believe art is for everyone and it’s a rare person who makes it through life without experiencing some moment where the soul is shaken by a created object in their path. The thought of taking four under-5s to an art gallery made my knees sweat largely because I feared other adults’ reactions, the tuts and sneers and hostility that we might expect for herding a band of feral creatures through the sanctum. It pleases me more than I can say to have been wrong about this. Fellow gallery-goers of today, you were wonderful: tolerant, patient, smiley, all the things that help a child to feel the gallery is their place too. And the Tate staff are fab. We will be back again.