Kids will go #Polke dotty for Sigmar

Other than the very strange short film that formed part of Duncan Campbell’s recent Turner Prize showcase, I had no prior knowledge of Sigmar Polke, and consequently no expectations as to whether Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, a collection of his lifetime of work at Tate Modern, would be suitable for young visitors. Having recently been bought Tate membership for my birthday, I find myself in the enviable position of being able to attend any talks, events and exhibitions that take my fancy, without the anxiety of wasted admission fees and shortened visits if one of the little ones loses interest. With this in mind, I decided to take the girls for a quick nose around.

Room 1 provided a very strong start. Early work was based on the artist’s experiences of growing consumerism in post-war Germany, featuring a plethora of every day products in a mock pop-art style. The Sausage Eater (1963) was particularly good for a giggle, and it didn’t take the girls long to spot the images of socks, shirts and biscuits.

I was hurried into Room 2 by my pre-schooler who had fallen in love with one of the headline pieces of the exhibition, Girlfriends (1967). It was the pretty young ladies that initially caught her eye, but as we moved closer we noticed that this particular piece had been painted onto fabric, and contained thousands of tiny dots. Standing so close the image had become harder to see, so we held hands and took ten steps back, watching the image emerge from the canvas as intended. This really caught on, and became a really fun way for us to enjoy many of the dotted ‘raster’ and fabric pieces featured in this and later rooms.

Nobody could have prepared us for the excitement of Room 4, not even the nervous looking security guard, wondering how long Polke’s Potato House (1967) was going to last with us in the room. Made from garden lattices reinforced by hundreds of real potatoes, this magnificent lean-to wooden house is flat-packed and reconstructed at every destination, with new potatoes being added each time. We were lucky enough to stand under this amazing structure, using it exactly as Polke intended; a temporary shelter from which to look out onto the world. Unlike the ‘dissident dweller’ that inspired its creation, I was grateful that the girls were restrained enough to be completely respectful of authority, always looking but never touching.

We hurried through the space-like section in Room 5, and found ourselves inside the surprise hit of the show: Polke’s first film The Whole Body Feels Light and Wants to Fly (1969). Appearing to send up the seriousness of early performance art, its sentiment was working, quickly producing questions such as “Mummy, why is that man so serious?”. Both girls then became completely unmovable, transfixed for at least 10 minutes, whilst Polke performed with various objects, tying himself in string like Spiderman and waving around antenna.

This was a really hard act to follow, with rumbling tummies and fatigue limiting our enjoyment of the rest of the show, with the exception of the imposing Watchtower pieces, and the striking pink featured in Season’s Hottest Trend (2003) and Uranium (Pink) (1992). The hunger distraction was also great excuse for me not to have to explain any of the pornographic drawings in the penultimate room.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 is a substantial exhibition, and one I would highly recommend, even if like us, you only get to appreciate half of it. More accessible and engaging that you would initially assume, there is a lot to inspire viewers of all ages. In the style of Sigmar Polke himself, experiment with the work, wander each of the rooms and see what captures your imagination. I’m sure he would forgive you for taking some bits and leaving others. As with every major exhibition I attempt to see, my best advice would be to enjoy this in the spirit of the great Andy Warhol, one of Polke’s great influencers. Go along, take the kids and be reassured by his belief that “if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning”.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 is at Tate Modern from now until 8th February 2015.
Adults £14.50, concessions available. Under 12s go free.

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Richard Tuttle @Tate Modern: 15 minutes of play-filled peace

As many of us have discovered, Tate Modern is always a reliable choice for art-loving parents who want to combine a lovely day out spotting boats and buskers on the South Bank with introducing their children to modern art in a relaxed and inspiring environment. Well this autumn, Tate Modern is rewarding us richly with a magnificent sculpture in the Turbine Hall by American artist and poet Richard Tuttle.

I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language, is a major collaboration to celebrate the work of Tuttle, who has made his name through his delicate and playful work, combining sculpture painting, poetry and drawing, often using every day materials such as cloth, paper, rope and plywood. This commission in the Turbine Hall, features in conjunction with a major exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery surveying five decades of his career.

The sheer size of the structure, measuring over twelve metres in height, draped with brightly coloured fabric, drew an immediate “wow” from my two young viewers. From the viewing gallery beyond the main entrance hall, the section suspended from the ceiling was, to them, like the most exciting bridge you’d ever want to cross, whilst the larger support section rising up from the lower ground floor formed a giant beanstalk in their imaginations. Down in the vast hall itself, the kids loved running underneath it, seeing something different each time they looked up.

The good news is, for once, you don’t need to rush as the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition is running until 14th December, and the sculpture will remain resident at Tate Modern until 6th April 2015.

Want to see more? This bite-size beauty is perfect if you don’t think the kids will manage a whole room or exhibition at the Tate, but if you do want to see more, the Whitechapel Gallery is hosting one of their fantastic Crib Notes sessions on Tuesday 4th November at 10am. The session dedicated to parents and carers with children under 5, costs just £5 and includes a tour of the exhibition with Assistant Curator Poppy Bowers. For those of you with a buggy, the majority of the exhibition is on the ground floor, but there is a lift that can take you to the work featured on other floors (although be warned, the rest of the building can seem some-what maze-like). Failing that, you are welcome to leave your buggy with the cloakroom.

Whilst you’re there: Just along the river, enjoy a free lunchtime concert at the Southbank Centre with Mastercard’s Friday Lunch sessions. From classical and jazz, to folk and world, this is a great opportunity for the little ones to experience live music in a family-friendly (and easy-to-escape) space.

Turner Prize 2014, is it a winner for a family audience?

After a hiatus of 2 years, the Turner Prize has returned to London’s Tate Britain for it’s 30th year. Looking back, I think I have visited almost every show for the last 10 years, with the exception of the year my first child was born, and the last two years which saw it relocated.

Although I felt duty-bound by my commitment to Arts Aloud, I did get the rare treat to go it alone, so instead I thought I would use it as an opportunity to scope out the exhibition for those of you who might be considering a visit with the kids.

So, what is the Turner Prize all about? and is it suitable for a family audience? Or is suitability of content only one of many elements that needs some careful consideration by parents before exposing their children to an exhibition of this nature?

Established in 1984 as a prize for young and emerging artists, the Turner Prize quickly built itself a reputation as the UK’s most publicised art award. More often than not, this publicity was derived from its long list of controversial inclusions. It didn’t take much to recall Damien Hirst’s notorious Mother and Child (Divided), a dissected cow and calf preserved in formaldehyde, bringing outrage to the nation and responsible for bringing the very description of ‘art’ under the microscope.

This year’s exhibition is no different, with the majority of publicity gained from the press focusing on ‘erotic tickling sticks’ and censored images included in James Richards‘ black and white film Rosebud. Together with his gruesome exploration into theatrical make up, this work was definitely an adult only affair, adults and perhaps a blissfully unaware (or sleeping!) baby.

Moving on, the next room was full of sound and screen work by Tris Vonna-Michell. Finding Chopin: Dans L’Essex featured sweeping panoramas of salt marshes, set to a monologue of spoken word, a script which varied in pace as it played out. To the left of this installation, and at times overlapping in sound, was Postscript IV (Berlin), a more intimate monologue based on the experiences of the artist’s mother in post-war Germany. Never before have I experienced this kind of storytelling; it was both atmospheric and poetic. Although highly original, it is unlikely you would get kids to sit and soak this up for too long. They would certainly love the cinematic nature of this long enough to give you a taster, but probably not long enough for you to judge whether Vonna-Michell was a worthy winner.

The good news for parents is that by room 3, any waning attention will definitely be tempered by the prints, textiles and photography by Ciara Phillips. Like a beacon of light among this year’s very dark and very film-heavy shortlist, it was refreshing to see more traditional mediums like screen printing cut through. Although the critics haven’t felt that her work has added much to this year’s show, or indeed the art world, you’ll definitely get a ‘wow’ from any little ones entering this immersive and colourful room, and you too will appreciate it as a well timed crowd pleaser in the circuit.

If 12 minutes was too long to contain kids for Vonna-Michell’s storytelling, there is no way that they will sit through all 54 minutes of Duncan Campbell’s film, even if it does at times sound a bit like a BBC Schools documentary. There are some complex themes at play here, from the impact of colonialism on African art to an exploration of the value of art, none of which you’ll have time to contemplate. If like me, you feel slightly saddened by the scathing criticism of institutions such as the British Museum, then at least you can all have a giggle at his other piece; Sigmar. At the other end of the scale, this slightly silly ‘etch-a-sketch’ style animation based on Campbell’s scant knowledge of German Artist Sigmar Polke, doesn’t ask too much from the viewer. It won’t tax your brain, nor will it offer anything new, even if you stood there all day.

By this point, you’re on the home straight. Just around the corner is the infamous comments wall, perfect for little thinkers and little scribblers. Although, on a rainy Monday it felt somewhat lacking in content, suggesting perhaps visitors were choosing to tweet their views to #turnerprize instead.

When it comes to kids and exhibitions like the Turner Prize, there’s never going to be a clear cut right or wrong. Each year sees new artists, new work, new challenges for the viewer and new headlines for the press. Disturbing images aside, for a parent, the idea of suitability needs to be considered beyond how far you feel you can (or even want to) explain any content of a sexual nature. Although unusually light on the ground this year (offering one less thing to worry about), past exhibitions have featured some tempting and fragile installations, such as Grayson Perry’s ceramics and Tracey Emin’s bed. So if you think you might spend more time keeping your curious toddler away from work that isn’t designed to be interactive, you have to ask yourself if it is worth the raise in blood pressure just to broaden their horizons each year.

Out of 4 finalists for this year’s Turner Prize shortlist, 3 are film based, and with this come a rather large viewer commitment. You could easily spend 2 hours winding through the rooms, and for me, whisking past the rude bits and fidgeting through the documentaries, would have meant not giving the show the attention it deserved. That said, this won’t be the case for those of you lucky enough to still have teeny-tiny babes-in-arms. Use it as an excuse to schlep them along (preferably at nap time), snuggle them tight and treasure every minute, because before long, they’ll be an installation-loving toddler, creating controversy of their own.

The Turner Prize exhibition is at Tate Britain, until the 4th January. Admission £11, under 12s free.
The winner will be announced in December.