Review: Imagine Art Club, David Hockney for Kids

A focussed way to tackle big exhibitions with kids, with no time for boredom to set in.

When Imagine Art Club founder, museum educator and visual artist Agnieszka Arabska created her David Hockney for Kids event, it was met with an unprecedented response. I was one of over 17,000 people who spotted the event on Facebook, which saw almost 7000 people express an interest in attending and over 600 people confirm their place. Whether it was the draw of one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists, or Tate’s unwavering popularity at attracting families, it reinforced our shared opinion that children just aren’t suitably catered for when galleries stage major exhibitions.

Established in 2012 in Hanwell, West London, Aga’s successful Saturday School and After School Club combines practical art activities across a range of materials, with interesting ways to learn about artists and art movements. This includes devising child-friendly visits to important museums and galleries in London.

When I first visited David Hockney back in February, I commented on Tate’s lack of family provision for this exhibition. Now, in its closing weeks, I found myself back at Tate Britain with my eldest daughter (aged 6), to road-test one of Imagine Art Club’s trips, feeling lucky to have bagged myself a place on their sell-out run.

Communication before the event was very good, with clear meeting points and start times, and permission forms to sign. When we arrived, we found the group, with Agnieszka impossible to miss, checking off our names whilst showcasing her colourful Hockney socks.

The group size was small and intimate (around 10) which was ample for such a crowded space. Most children were aged 6 to 10 years and left their parents at the door, but accompanying (paying) adults were welcome for those not quite yet at that stage.

Before we entered, we gathered into the corner for a short ‘story’, the tale of sugar magnate, art collector and founder, Sir Henry Tate, and a simple introduction to David Hockney as well. Pitched perfectly, the ‘briefing’ was gentle and slow, with questions to get them thinking and an invitation to chip in. A frisson of excitement ran through the group, as each child received their sketchbook and some freshly sharpened pencils.

Dividing into two smaller groups, we headed in and straight to Hockney’s photo collages housed in Room 7. It was great to enter with purpose, but I did have to hurry my young companion, who seemed keen to take in much of what we’d passed.

Huddled in the corner again, we talked about Polaroid and the art of photo collage, before moving slowly from piece to piece, observing the technique in action. Everyone enjoyed counting the vast numbers of photos used and spotting signs of Hockney with his cheeky tip-toe presence. We even created our own collages, using colourful sheets of cleverly prepared stickers.

Next stop was Room 4, home to Hockney’s infamous A Bigger Splash. We sat down right in front and talked about the painting. What did it remind us of? How do we know he is somewhere hot? How do we find Hockney in the picture? The process was the same, with the children challenged to question, think and look, before recreating for themselves.

Further fun activities included searching for life-like textures amongst Hockney’s double portraits and adding our own rich colour to Hockney’s Hawthorne Blossom Near Rudston (2008) in a room full of his Yorkshire paintings. Our time spent with Hockney’s digital and screen time work was all too brief, before we had to exit via the gift shop. The remainder of our time as a group was then spent making cards and writing messages for David Hockney, who celebrates his 80th birthday in July.

Imagine Art Club’s gallery trip was a breath of fresh air. In a world where all too often family or children’s gallery activities are unstructured arts and crafts, happening outside the exhibition space with little or no link to what’s going on next door. These guided exhibition tours take the learning back into the gallery, losing none of the opportunity for creativity, but re-writing your typical curator tours in a fun and interactive way.

For newbie gallery visitors, the trips are highly educational and a low-risk way to ensure you really make the most of your ticket. For those perhaps used to spending more time in this space, the schedule might feel limiting, lacking flexibility and freedom to explore what takes your fancy. In the room packed with spectacular double portraits, we spent so long spotting textures in our books, we didn’t always step back and appreciate the magnificence of the bigger picture. Similarly, my daughter commented that she would have loved to have spent longer watching Hockney’s iPad creations unfold, “…because that’s what it’s all about mummy, isn’t it?” That is what it’s about for her. On the whole, however, the experience was highly positive, and we both agreed that we learned so much more and looked so much deeper than if we’d have gone it alone. It was the perfect supplement to our usual visits, and a real treat for bigger exhibitions.

The next Imagine Art Club visit is on the 21st May.
See Facebook page for details of American Dream for Kids at the British Museum.
Imagine Art Club runs on Saturday, 10am-12pm or 1-3pm, £27.
There is also an After School Club.