‘It’s a giant pile of earth’ . It was a strong start.
There’s nothing better than taking kids to abstract art exhibitions where they can actually identify what they see. Sculptor and conceptual artist Reiner Ruthenbeck’s current exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery features just that, numerous everyday objects and materials presented in a way that challenges the viewer to find something new or unusual about their appearance.
And the giant pile of earth, was actually an ash heap, with two other neighbouring ash heaps, strewn with galvanised metal to form his Ash Heap series. We enjoy standing for a while, contemplating whether anything will pop out of the metal boxes that sit on top, making it look a bit like a mole hill or a rabbit warren.
We move into a passage way, pulling back a curtain to step into a pitch black room. The only thing that can be seen is a simple filament lightbulb. As we have in past exhibitions, we wait for something to happen. We stand there guessing what is to come. But it really is just a lightbulb. A single lightbulb in a pitch black room, designed to challenge the stark brightness of the everyday gallery. The pre schooler can’t wait to escape the darkness, but later, like some morbid obsession, she names it as her favourite bit.
We walk past a suitcase merrily playing a composition by the Fluxus experimental musician, Henning Christiansen. The next room is full of interesting exhibits, the most fascinating of which is two intertwined ladders. After our morning visit to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, my little one takes some convincing not to climb them. They remind us of the magic rings trick that we received in our Christmas crackers, and we try to work out how on earth you would separate them.
Evie: ‘Mum, look at this, quick!’. I head into the last room.
Me: ‘You didn’t knock all those chairs over did you Evie?’.
The gallery attendant smiles.
Evie: ‘It’s just a pile of papers and some chairs’.
She’s not wrong.
We seem to be frequenting these very installation based exhibitions at the moment, but Ruthenbeck’s work is particularly refreshing as it is as everyday as you can get. Rather than trying to guess what we are looking at from the beginning, or me having to pretend that I know, it’s evident. Instead, the guessing comes later as we review what else we can see, what we would like to see and what (if anything) the artist is trying to tell us. It’s all good fun.
I look around and the toddler is fast asleep in her buggy. I feel sad that she’s missed out, but on this occasion, it’s probably for the best. With so many familiar objects and items, we might have seen more than just a few chairs that needed tidying up.
Reiner Ruthenbeck is at the Serpentine Gallery until 15th February 2015. Admission free.
Nearby: Rain or shine you’re in a fantastic location to make a day of it.
Shine: Indulge the kids with a few installations of a different nature at the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. Set within the beautiful Kensington Gardens, the playground features everything from a life size pirate ship to colourful tipis and giant totem poles. Admission free.
Rain: Less than 15 mins walk away is the superb Launchpad at the Science Museum, where curious children of all ages can explore over 50 hands-on exhibits from the world of Physics. From making water freeze, to thermal imaging and bouncing light. Recommended age 8 to 14 (but youngsters will love it too). Under 12s must be accompanied by an adult. Admission free (Recommended donation £5)