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.