Making gallery-going child’s play
Sarah Unwin Jones shares her tips on where to take your mini-critics
TAKING very young children to art galleries can be a little bit tricky. The amount of art you see is directly dependant on your choice of show, but in my experience, you can never second guess what the kids are going to like unless it involves running around chasing each other and eating cake. Very few art galleries smile on this combination, particularly if the works aren’t nailed, very high up, to the wall.
One of the galleries my miniature art critic will gladly romp around is the Fruitmarket, perhaps because of early memories of Jim Lambie’s Zobop a few years ago, in which the entire floor was covered in multi-coloured tape. An exhibition in which it was OK, positively encouraged even, to crawl across the floor. He’s also good with Inverleith House, but that’s probably because they told him there’s a chocolate factory in the basement.
The Edinburgh Art Festival, along with many individual galleries like the Fruitmarket (which provides excellent drawing sheets and clipboards for children to take round each of their exhibitions), are keen to get young people into galleries to experience art.
In this vein, the former have this year started their free Art Early scheme, the daytime counter to their Art Late tours for adults. Keen to see what the festival had to offer, my troop of mini critics joined a two hour “mystery” tour starting at the Fruitmarket, which piggybacked on the gallery’s Literary Littles group for the first activity of the tour.
The Fruitmarket is currently showing Damian Ortega’s thoughtful ceramics, reviewed on this page a few weeks ago. Ceramics and children may seem a terrifying match, but if you can keep small hands from picking up the floorbound objects, this exhibition, with its suspended, moulded and playful pieces should be a hit with kids.
The day starts with a book reading – Miroslav Sasek’s classic This is Edinburgh – and then the kids are encouraged to take as much plasticine as they wish and sculpt an Edinburgh monument.
wMuch free-wrangling of plasticine results in some impressive depictions of the Forth Rail Bridge, the Dazzle Ship and “the rocks around a waterfall by a lake” (clearly a free thinker), and then we set off on foot for Dovecot and the Scottish Endarkenment exhibition, where the children sit and draw moonscapes inspired by Jock McFadyen’s Calton Hill (2014) with its vast moon.
Much excitement, too, as UV torches are handed out and the children search for secret code messages hidden around the gallery. The kids concentrate on the hunt, but at times you hear them noticing the art, too, not least a jolt as a couple of them spot Kerry Stewart’s “The only solution was to…”, a life-size facsimile baby in a car seat placed on the floor as if someone has left it there. “I thought it was real!” one boy says, and he grins, relieved.
It’s just a short walk to Talbot Rice Gallery, where a retrospective of Alice Neel (reviewed below) is showing. Amongst the bright painted portraits, the kids gather with their parents to draw each other, holding up cardboard frames to see what should go inside their picture. There is a questionnaire, too, which certainly engages the older children in looking specifically and in detail at the powerful gaze and posture of Neel’s portraits. But my three year old has had enough by then, and so we pick up the tasty picnic provided and go outside to the university’s Old College Quad for lunch – or, as it transpires, running around and eating cake.
There are other, often free, events for children going on in the Art Festival elsewhere, too, and the Kiosk on Blair Street is the best place to find out more. Near to Ciara Philips’ wonderful Dazzle Ship in Leith is the Dazzle Ship hub at Ocean Terminal, where children can go and make all things dazzley. The City Art Centre is running a watercolour landscape workshop for families on 27th Aug (2-4pm).
Or you could head to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for the rather intriguing-sounding Surreal Storytelling (28th Aug, 2-4pm) for stories and a “fun and interactive” tour of the show. Or simply go for a slide in the surreal adventure playground outside.
Ginny and Elizabeth is part of the Alice Neel retrospective at the Talbot Rice Gallery. Picture: courtesy of the estate of Alice Neel and Victoria Miro