5 ways to enjoy Jasper Johns with kids

With just under a month left to show, if you’ve been dragging your feet, wondering whether to visit Jasper Johns Something Resembling Truth at the Royal Academy with the kids, here is your big moment to decide.

This landmark exhibition is the first survey of his work to be held in the UK in 40 years and boasts drawings, prints and sculpture. Even if you aren’t familiar with much of his seven decade career, there’s plenty of familiar images, icons and objects which feature among the 150 plus works on display. From target boards, to lightbulbs and numbers, each subject provides its own insight into his unique take on abstract expressionism.

Challenging how we perceive our world, the exhibition covers themes like ageing, childhood and mortality, forcing us to take a closer look at the ‘truth’, the things we take for granted. It’s the epitome of the idea that ‘everyone is an artist’, and having carved his own path, what Johns has achieved is far more fun and compelling than any of his peers at the time (in my view).

We visited just after it opened, and armed with a simple sketchbook and some tracing paper, we spotted some really fun ways to enjoy the exhibition together.

1. Test your mathematical genius against Numbers (2007)
This cast aluminium grid of numbers from zero through nine was created in response to John’s original painting Numbers (1964), his only public commission created in sculpt metal.

Can you spot casts of house keys and an imprint of choreographer Merce Cunningham’s foot near the upper right-hand corner? These aspects link it to the original 1964 work.

What number do you get from adding up a row? And what about the columns? Is this the same number?

How many sequences can you spot if you read the numbers diagonally across the piece?

2. Number drawing conundrum
In a room full of number lithographs, seek out 0 Through 9 (1960). Here, Johns cleverly sketches numbers which are scaled and superimposed over one another, making it difficult to make out their individual forms.

Make like Jasper Johns and challenge the familiarity of the everyday!

Fold a piece of A4 paper in half to create an A5 box, or draw a box in the middle of a piece of paper. Try to copy numbers 0 through to 9 into this box, one on top of the other, same size, same scale, without taking your pencil of the paper.

Looking at your completed work, how easy is it to determine each of the numbers you’ve drawn?

3. False Start (1959) Brainteaser
Painting features heavily in Jasper Johns early career, but not content with just producing paintings that were simply ‘viewed’ or ‘seen’, he wanted to provoke a greater interaction, a playful sense of irony and deeper thought.

As a result, so many of his paintings are characterised by what they are made of, or their scale, composition and colour.

Starting from the top of this piece, can you get all the way to the bottom, ignoring the colour painted, and instead naming the colour which has been written?

4. The artist within
In Room 5 In The Studio Untitled (1964) is one example of where  Jasper Johns began to add tools and materials to his work in order to give us an idea what it’s really like to be an artist.

Can you name all of the primary colours featured in this work?

How many tools or objects can you spot and what do you think they might have been used for?

This work is unsigned and untitled, but what has the artist done to leave his mark? If this was your work, how would people know it’s yours? How would you leave your mark?

5. Memory Tracings
In a room dedicated to memories and identity, with much inspiration drawn from the artist’s youngest years, it seems fitting that the art of tracing is firmly dragged away from ‘child’s play’ and used to serious effect providing a fresh perspective on the work of Freud, Picasso and Grünewald.

If you have a piece of thin or tracing paper with you, have a go at tracing a picture in this section by holding the tracing paper up in the air, in front of the piece, and trace its form as if it was on a table in front of you.

If you don’t have a piece of tracing paper, it doesn’t matter. Pick a picture in this section, step back from it, close one eye and trace around lines, figures and shapes using an index finger.

How easy is it to keep to the original, and does it matter?

What else would you add to this new tracing to make it your own?

For more ideas on how to make the most of the exhibition if you’re visiting with children, pick up an Art Detectives pack from the information desk at the Royal Academy, with more questions, challenges and things to spot in the exhibition (suitable for 4+, with assistance).

Jasper Johns Something Resembling Truth is on at the Royal Academy of Art until 10th December.
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD.
Admission Adults £19 full price (£17 without Gift Aid donation), concessions available, children under 16 and Friends of the RA go free. All tickets include a multimedia guide.
Open daily 10am – 6pm, until 9pm on Fridays.

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Arts Aloud Review: Taking Cézanne Portraits at face value

Almost a year to the day since we braved the half term chaos to enjoy the opening days of Picasso Portraits, we found ourselves battling the crowds again at the National Portrait Gallery, keen to explore one of the most eagerly awaited exhibitions of the year.

Cézanne Portraits brings together for the first time, over fifty of the artist’s portraits from collections all over the world, celebrating some of his most iconic pieces and uncovering a number of works seen for the very first time on British soil.

I’ve long carried affection for this ‘father’ of the Post-Impressionist era, but admittedly my exposure has been limited to reoccurring images of his landscape Mont Sainte-Victoire, or his fruity still life arrangements. A somewhat underwhelming introduction for my companions perhaps, but with thousands of paintings produced throughout his life, under 200 of which were portraits, we could at least agree that what we were about to see was very special, and more importantly, new for us all.

Armed with sketchbooks and a spectrum of coloured pencils to pay homage to his bold colours, the girls were excited to be back in this magnificent gallery and couldn’t wait to start exploring. Sadly, the position of Room 1 smack bang in front of the main entrance, created an unpleasant bottleneck from the outset, rendering The Artist’s Father, Reading “L”Evénement and Self Portrait c.1862-4 almost impossible to view, and failing to provide the introduction that both the artist and these eager young viewers deserved.

By the third room, space began to level out, with the man himself replaced by evolving portraits of his Uncle Dominique, providing the perfect cue to plot down and pay closer attention. We really enjoyed the imperfections of work in this room, with so many of the pieces feeling like a test run for the larger work. His distinctive manière couillarde style, also caught us by surprise. Scared to represent his heavy-handed use of paint with their meagre art pencils, the children instead used adjectives to describe his expression, appearing to have sat so long, yet left with so many details seemingly incomplete. Impatient, bored, dull, fidgety.

Lessons in conserving canvas was another highlight for this room, where Cézanne’s sister and mother are displayed back to back, resulting in his poor mum being viewed upside down on her debut in London. We had to giggle.

As we journeyed through his life and his work, the boldness of his palette knife and the non compliance of his sitters, seemed to continue in earnest, with Madame Cézanne capturing even more of their imagination by Room 7.

Without the urgency to clamber over other visitors in order to spy the iconic set of self portraits, or the famous Man with Pipe, they instead flocked to the fabulous skirt of Madame Cézanne in a Red Armchair, hair in bun, lips pursed, hands folded and unresolved. One of twenty-nine completed portraits of his wife, Hortense Fiquet, the children surmised that she must have sat for so many pictures, she didn’t even bother to look up for Madame Cézanne Sewing. Her narrow eyes in one piece made me think they had a point.

With lengthy wall panels to digest and growing crowds, the atmosphere began to move from enjoyment to intensity, with attention starting to wane. We had just enough time for a quick mid-gallery loo stop (handy) and to marvel at the angel-like translucency that the artist had gifted his son’s skin in The Artist’s Son. It was interesting to see how his touch became more gentle and colours had become lighter, almost watercolour, as he faded into his later years.

As we escaped into the fresh air and freedom of London’s west end, heading onto St. James’ Park, we had no regrets about making the visit. We might not have had the energy or endurance to complete every room, or enjoy the additional children’s activities on the first floor, but we felt that we had made the right choice in focusing on the main show. We were grateful to the gallery attendants for batting away the few ‘old guard’ objections that came from us sitting and sketching, but what was really missing was a guide of some description to bring Cézanne’s form, friendships and focus to life, to wade us through the jargon and smooth our passage.

From unknown entity to surprise hit, it was testament to this magnificent body of work that we took away so much discussion around what we had seen. With so little to go on before, during and after we left, all we could do was take each room, each piece and each detail at face value. Surely the best way to tackle any world-class collection of portraits, don’t you think?

Cezanne Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 11 February 2018
St. Martin’s Place, London WC2H 0HE
Opening hours: Sat to Weds 10am-6pm, Thurs and Fri 10am-9pm
Admission Adults £20 (including donation), Children under 12 free, concessions available

Last chance to see…Frieze Sculpture

I’ve haven’t lived in north-west London, so unless visiting London Zoo, Regent’s Park has never been on my radar. Having spent the entire summer holidays intending to head on over but never quite managing it, with the promise of an unseasonably warm Sunday, we packed a picnic ready to explore Frieze Sculpture before it ends on the 8th October.

Featuring 24 brand new works by leading artists including Alicja Kwade and Eduardo Paolozzi, this is the first time Frieze has ever curated a free summer exhibition in the park, ahead of the main London art fair.

Before we’d even found the sculpture walk, we stumbled upon the unusual Marylebone Green Playground, less than 5 minutes stroll from Regent’s Park station. Subject to its own artistic refurbishment in 2013, the space now sports 3 distinct zones, with the original play equipment forming the Traditional Zone, scattered logs and boulders forming the Natural Play Zone and brutalist geometric shapes and rendered walls forming the Art Play Zone. Apart from being surrounded by the building site of the Frieze Art Fair under construction, this hidden gem of a playground, popular with international residents and visitors, was an immediate crowd-pleaser and the perfect antidote to any long tube journey.

With the promise of a picnic, we made the short stroll through the immaculate Avenue Gardens, passing well-heeled ladies, tennis couples and cats on leads (!), to the beautiful English Gardens, a visual treat I’m sure at any time of year. Immediately struck by the scale and variety of sculpture on offer, our excited companions dashed off to explore, leaving us hot on their heels, reading the riot act about no touching or climbing.

With a showcase of work on this scale, in such a playful setting, it’s so tempting for little ones to view it as an extension of the playground, but with some smart ways to enjoy the multiplicity of sizes, shapes and subjects, you’ll soon avoid sounding like a broken record.

Our pick of the bunch which were just as fun to look at, without getting hands on were:

Ugo Rondinone’s Summer Moon (S3) With the appearance of a mysterious ghost tree, this man-made white-enamelled re-creation of a 1000 year old olive tree, creates a magical shimmer in the sunlight.

Rasheed Araeen’s Summertime (S7) The Regent’s Park – Looking somewhat like a multicoloured scaffolding, this window-like structure was fun to walk around, looking across at each other through the shapes and watching them change as we moved.

Michael Craig-Martin’s Wheelbarrow (S8) Seemingly at home in the surrounding gardens, yet completely incapable of holding anything in its reduced flat structure, hours of fun can be spent playing with perspective by taking photos from a distance.

KAWS Final Days (S10) If the weird criss-cross eyes don’t creep the kids out, fun can be had growling and stomping towards this Smurf-like toy-cum-monster, by a once prolific street artist.

Bernar Venet’s 17 Acute Unequal Angles (S17) Welded together from Corten Steel (not wooden as it appears), we found ourselves up-close to maths, walking around and under, counting all 17 angles as we went.

Hank Willis Thomas Endless Column (S15) Impossible to miss, like a beacon of play to most children in the sculpture park, this towering sculpture of footballs was by-far the most photographed sculpture in the park. Inspired by Constantin Brancusi’s Endless Column, the piece comments on the room for growth in the relationship between sport, black identity, popular culture.

Beyond the sculpture trail, the beautiful bridges and boating lake can make for a perfect addition to a day out. If the whole family on a pedalo at £28 and hour is too much to stomach, there’s children’s only pedalos in a mini lake at a more palatable £4 per child (20 minutes).

Frieze Sculpture ends on the 8th October
Regents Park English Gardens, Chester Rd, London NW1 4NR
Daily 5am to 7pm, admission free.



Download the Frieze Sculpture Audio Tour and Map for more information.

X Play, Don’t Play. Walala’s immersive maze left us puzzled

Anyone who knows me well will know that public art is one of my passions. As a director of Brockley Street Art Festival, the work of designer Camille Walala has inspired me again and again, producing brilliant examples of how enjoyable and accessible art is right there on the street. Her incredible Dream Come True mural for Splice, brightening up the Shoreditch streetscape. Her inspired Southwark crossing, bringing colour to an everyday pedestrian journey during last year’s London Design Festival. To say I’m a big fan is an understatement. So imagine how excited I was to hear that she’d been commissioned to create an immersive installation of her trademark colours and patterns, at one of my local galleries, just in time for the school holidays.

Described as a ‘temple of wonder’, Walala x Play sees the creation of a maze-like installation at Greenwich Peninsula’s lesser-known NOW Gallery, inviting visitors to fathom out the anomalies and asymmetries in the design, by exploring every nook and cranny of this compact three-dimensional space.

Due to popularity, visitors must pre-book a 15 minute slot to view. Visiting with my daughter (age 6) and our friends (with children aged 6 and 2), the glass aspect of the gallery on approach slightly spoilt the surprise. However, there was still plenty of enthusiasm as we neared the entrance, even after the steely front of house had read and re-read us the rules.

Take a wrist band.
Shoes off.
No running.
Do not touch the walls.
Do not sit on any part of the structure.
Children must be accompanied at all times.
Children aren’t allowed to view the maze from the mezzanine level.
This is an art installation and not a soft play area.

We get it. But did they need to be so heavy-handed that they forgot to welcome us in any way? Or tell us to have fun? And what about the artist and the work? Did they not warrant a mention? Looks like they forgot about that too.

Once inside, we found ourselves amongst some of the most playful ‘don’t-play’ art that we have ever experienced. It was impossible to stay together, as our young companions darted through narrow passages, only to emerge in the most unexpected of places. We gazed into mirrors, but our reflections were elsewhere. Instead of corners, we found dead-ends. Instead of space, we’d been squished. We were fooled again and again, and it was bending our small, medium and large minds. This, together with the dazzling colours and patterns, soon made us feel like we’d been sucked into a human kaleidoscope, twisted and spun around and around.  It was so much fun (sorry), and a brilliant way to experience the creative conundrum that goes on inside this incredible artist’s imagination.

Spat out of the labyrinth and back into the foyer, we marvelled at the super cute mechanical model of the neighbouring Emirates Air Line, high above our heads, before peeking our noses into the cosy cinema. Don’t be fooled by the writing on the wall though, there’s no Timelapse of Walala x Play happening in here. It’s just a hangover from the Walala opening night. There is, however, a clever Minecraft style interactive map of the Greenwich Peninsula and its surrounds, worth a play if you’re allowed and have the time to linger. Outside in Peninsula Gardens there is also more fun (not) to be had, in the form of two unique ping-pong tables adorned with Walala’s lively designs. Bats and balls are apparently available to borrow from the Now Gallery reception. That is if you’re brave enough to go back in and ask for them, or indeed, old enough to play.

Walala x Play is in at NOW Gallery, Greenwich Peninsula until 24th September. 
Opening times: Mon to Fri 10am-7pm, Sat & Sun 11am-4pm.
Admission Free.
15 minute viewing slots should be booked via the eventbrite.

Whilst you’re there: As well as nearby Emirates Air Line, take a 15 minute walk down East Parkside and get close to nature at Greenwich Ecology Centre. From here you can double back along the Olympian Way river path, spying the many flotsam and jetsam sculptures. 

Arts-lovers guide to summer family fun

However much time you have to spend with the children over the school holidays, the arts is awash with some fantastic family friendly fun, with many events and activities happening all summer long. Here’s my arts-lovers guide to a summer of family fun!

S is for Shakespeare’s Globe

Celebrating literature and the art of storytelling, from 28-30 July the globe hosts everything from talks with Michael Morpurgo to interactive Shakespeare workshops. Advance booking highly recommended. See website for tickets and times.

U is for Udderbelly

Catch the last few gems of this family spectacular, which has been occupying the South Bank since April. The Australian acrobats staging Children Are Stinky (22-27 July) wowed the crowds at Edinburgh last year with their daredevil stunts, whilst Jungle Book (1-24 August) brings Rudyard Kipling’s well-known tale bang up to date, setting it in an urban jungle and packing it with street dance and circus.

M is for Museum Trips for Kids

Remember our recent trip to David Hockney with Imagine Art Club? Bringing artists and exhibitions to life in a way that so few galleries do, the enigmatic Aga returns with a host of visits planned to fill the dying days of the holidays. The sessions, which combine an informative exhibition tour with some practical art techniques, take in Matisse at the Royal Academy (29 & 30 August) and Fahrelnissa Zeid’s abstract art at Tate Modern (3 September).

M is for Mad Hatter!

Les Petits will be occupying the atmospheric tunnels of The Vaults almost every day of the summer holidays, with their immersive interpretation of C S Lewis’ classic, Adventures in Wonderland (until 3 September). If you’re looking for something more summery, Sixteenfeet Productions are presenting their own unique retelling in some of London’s loveliest green spaces, including Brockwell Park (22 July to 31 August), Morden Hall Park (4-7 August), Streatham Rookery (10-14 August) and Osterley Park (16-20 August). There’s also a chance to attend a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

E is for Eclectic

National Theatre’s free River Stage returns to the South Bank for almost the entire summer break this year, promising an eclectic mix of live theatre, DJs, family fun, dance, cinema, workshops and live music. Don’t miss the all-female performance troupe Figs in Wigs and their creative tribute to the 80s (29 July, 15.15) and The Jukeboxes (5 August, 12.00 and 14.45) who recreate classic pop videos using props, puppets and wigs. There’s also a beat-boxing vocal workshop with UK beatboxing champion Grace Savage (12 August, 14.00).

R is for Royal Academy

A few weeks ago I reviewed the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition on behalf of Kids in Museums, and I was so impressed at the endless variety of work, from world-renowned artists such as Tracey Emin and Bob and Roberta Smith, to emerging artists and architects. We also loved the handy Art Detectives pack, free to family visitors in order for them to get the most out of the show. See website for details of tickets and opening times. Exhibition runs until 20 August. While you’re there, as part of exhibition Second Nature: The Art of Tunnicliffe, there’s also the RA’s first ever dedicated family corner with permanent activities, as well as a series of workshops and story-tellings.

O is for Outdoor Art

It should really be P is for Pavilion, as both the Serpentine and Dulwich Picture Gallery celebrate all that is great about art in the outdoors, showing off their spectacular summer pavilions. As well as a family day (22 July) Serpentine are hosting a programme of lunchtime talks, whilst every Wednesday in August, Dulwich Picture Gallery will be hosting drop-in art making sessions for families, inspired by their exhibition Sargent: The Watercolours, and the design of their first ever pavilion. If you love outdoor art, make sure you also don’t miss Frieze Sculpture 2017 (until 8 October). This first-ever summer display of sculpture in the English Gardens of Regents Park is absolutely free, and brings together 25 new works by leading 20th-century artists and contemporary artists from around the world.

F is for Festival

Nobody does festivals better than Southbank Centre and alongside the usual beach and water fountain fun, the Summertime festival extends this year’s theme of Nordic Matters with contemporary circus Cirkus Cirkör (13-16 August), the continuation of Adventures in Moominland (until 20 August) and a weekend celebrating Swedish feasting, craft and Nordic music (19-20 August).

F is for Framed Film Club

Framed Film Festival returns to Barbican later in the year but the Framed Film Club picks up again every Saturday in September with a programme specially curated by children’s films by author Jamila Gavin. Popular kids flick Ratatouille sneaks into the end of the summer holidays (2 September, 11am), but more exciting is The Adventures of Prince Achmed (9 September) with introduction from Ms Gavin herself, as well as a live musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne. See website for tickets and age restrictions.

U is for Up

Well, Pop Up. As well as your last chance to catch the immersive exhibition The Fantastic World of Dr. Seuss (ends 3 September), this summer, Discover Story Centre will be staging 2 pop-up playgrounds. Illustrators and artists Pencil & Help will be hosting a Pop-Up Poetry Playground (5-20 August) where you can make a poem out of big bendy shapes and draw a poem to take home with you, then artist Kristi Minchin unveils her interactive Geometric Playground (21 August to 3 September) with cogs to turn, levers to pull and pendulums to swing. See website for opening times and details of day passes. Entry is free from 21 July to 14 August to those living or working in Newham.

N is for National Portrait Gallery

Inspired by the BP Portrait Award 2017, the gallery has planned a programme of free family workshops and activities (24 July to 4 August) including painting, drawing and a chance to learn more about judging a portrait competition. The jewel in the crown is the  special Playdoh Portraits session (20 August, 13.00 for 3+, 15.00  for 7+) with artist Eleanor Macnair, where visitors recreate a portrait from the gallery’s collection using nothing but play doh. Tickets are free and available one hour before the event.

Finding more than fair-weather fun at Serpentine Pavilion

I’m usually first past the post to visit the annual Serpentine Pavilion. In fact, i’d go so far to say that I anticipate it.

Over the years I’ve seen more than a few internationally renowned artists take up the challenge of designing a 300 square metre structure to take pride of place alongside one of London’s most exciting contemporary art galleries. With the intention of creating a cafe-cum-social space by day, and an entertainment space by night, I’ve always enjoyed putting the resulting structure through its paces with a young companion in tow. So imagine my disappointment this morning, as we drew closer to Francis Kéré’s bold blue structure, and my 4 year old decided to drop the clanger “I’m not going in there”.

I’ve always relished having kids that were open to everything, but here I was, in front of what was intended to be one of Serpentine’s most inclusive pavilions, and she had bailed. What on earth was I to do? I knew you’d be relying on me. I knew I had to think quick.

The artist was particularly keen on ensuring visitors to the pavilion remain ‘in nature’ whilst they view it, which means there’s plenty of scope to circumnavigate the space, without really feeling like you’re “in”. This was helpful. I could at least talk her into a scoot around the outside, and with four separate entrances and free-standing perforated walls, i’d at least get a good peek inside.

The whole structure is inspired by the canopy of a tree and its role as the centre of community in the artist’s native Burkina Faso. The focal point of the community, the tree offers shade and shelter, but it is also a social space, a meeting place where everyone in the village can come together.

Three quarters of the way round and we struck gold, in the form of a mound of plywood which had been fashioned into what appeared like a slide. A simple accessory to the centrepiece was shaping up to be our main event. Grateful for being thrown a lifeline, I dashed inside to check the rules of engagement with front of house staff, and at the wishes of the artist, we were free to explore. She slid down its shiny surfaces. She reclined in the (not quite) sunshine. She circled it like a mountain, and jumped free from its summit. So much more than a slide, this humble addition successfully recreates the collective gathering of children under the tree, a virtual kindergarten, allowing us ‘villagers’ the time and space to look on, to talk and to share stories.

Now sold on the structure, we ventured inside to the sweet smell of coffee. The central courtyard which kept us connected to nature, was the next big draw and we both loved seeing and feeling the outdoors inside. The seating here is strictly for bottoms and don’t allow the same level of adventure, but the wind in our hair and the stones under foot soon had us lost in our own thoughts, as if we were on a distant beach. All we needed was to be free of the overcast skies above and the world would be perfect.

Keen to quit whilst ahead (and grateful to have turned a thumbs down into a thumbs up), we headed off, over the road to the Diana Memorial Fountain for a paddle.

As we moved away from the pavilion, I could finally appreciate the expanse of the funnel-like roof in all its glory, ready and waiting for the dark clouds above us to kick it into action. Bound to nature, this creation really comes to life when it rains and any water collected on the roof is channeled into a spectacular waterfall effect, before being evacuated through the floor for later use within the park. This surely makes this one of the most simple, yet useful, pavilions we have ever visited.

Whatever the weather, it goes without saying that Serpentine Pavilion should be high on your day out ‘hit list’ this summer. Free, family friendly and lots of fun, it’s a visual feast that neither a grumpy pre schooler nor the British summertime can spoil.

Serpentine Pavilion is open until 8th October 2017.
Admission Free, Open daily 10am to 6pm.

Inspired by Francis Kéré’s stories of gathering, debate and community the Pavilion will become host to a series of picnic talks this summer, every Wednesday at 1pm until 23rd August.

There is also a Family Day on 22nd July. See website for details

Review: Barbican’s Japanese House provides a warm welcome

We might be a little late to the party, but after a busy period of Easter holiday fun, we finally gave ourselves the time to visit Barbican’s first major UK exhibition of Japanese domestic architecture.

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, promises a feast of modern and contemporary design. The exhibition features over 40 renowned architects as well as a centrepiece in the form of a full-size recreation of the 2005 Moriyama House, designed by award-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa.

If like us, your knowledge of contemporary architecture could scarcely fill the back of a matchbox, do not fear. The beautiful thing about this exhibition is its accessibility. You definitely don’t need any prior knowledge to appreciate what’s on offer, all you need is a love of design, an interest in the built environment around you and a keen sense of adventure to let yourself and your companion explore.

So, what should you expect?

A brilliant activity sheet
Anyone who has visited Barbican Art Gallery before will know that it is a sizeable space. On this rare occasion, however, the team have played an absolute blinder and devised a fantastic activity sheet to guide you through the more technical upper floor. Starting in the upstairs gallery Inhabiting the Experimental, there’s a chance for little ones to choose their favourite house, peer inside curious models and take some inspiration to draw or design their own.

Plenty of video installations
For my young companion, any screen based installation is a big draw, and there’s plenty of this on offer to keep wide eyes mesmerised. There’s film snippets of Japanese home dramas – devised with minimal plot to simply show off abodes, and a host of beguiling manga cartoons, with video cleverly peppered throughout the exhibition, allowing you time and space to take-in the panels on the wall.

An awe-inspiring Japanese House
Downstairs, the exhibition centrepiece will be met with a shriek of excitement, followed by an opportunity to weave a curious path through Mr Moriyama’s house and garden. Whether marvelling at his well stocked kitchen, perusing his extensive belongings or giggling at his tiny bath, there’s more fun than Ikea to be had here. Move from room to room and ponder the incredible use of space, as well as exploring its garden pathways, hidden terraces and private courtyards.

A tea house as good as a tree house
Set within the garden of the Moriyama House, the tea house is a new commission designed especially for the Barbican by architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori. Featuring a beautiful hand-charred timber exterior, visitors are invited to play ‘house’ through climbing up inside its stark plastic interior and peering out of the circular tinted windows, waving at fellow visitors below.

The gallery environment is also transformed every 30 minutes by lighting that mimics dawn to dusk, ensuring that every visitor can experience the magic of these buildings across any one day.

What should you be aware of before visiting with young children?

Rules are rules
Although very family friendly and highly interactive, the ‘no touching, just looking’ rule should still apply. Yes, you can weave through the arches, climb stairs and explore rooms, but discourage little ones from touching the models or moving items found within the house. If cushions, futons and bunny chairs are devoid of items, you’re welcome to try them out for size, but steps obstructed with books and nik-naks stuck down with glue, give a good indication of what’s acceptable here.

Stick to the paths
The garden area has some fun pathways marked out by stones and interesting doorways to pass through. Be mindful not to walk on the stones, or open and close doors, to protect little fingers and delicate exhibits.

Lose the shoes
When entering the tea house, shoes have to be removed and set aside, but should be hastily put back on as you exit. It’s also one way in and one way out, with numbers limited at busy times.

With such a wealth of space beyond the gallery itself, from the foyers to the fountains, the conservatory and the Curve, the Barbican is such a fantastic destination for families. It is, however, easy to be put off by the often over-zealous front of house team, or the unfavourable reactions of the regular patrons. The experiential nature of this exhibition, however, appears to have turned this temporarily on its head, attracting far more younger visitors and with it, a slightly more relaxed approach from the hosts. Add this safety in numbers aspect, together with the peace and serenity that ensues from exploring a home unscathed by tut and toys, and this house will feel like a home in no time, and one you’ll want to return to again, and again, and again.

The Japanese House Architecture and Life after 1945 is at Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre until 25th June.
Admission Adult £14.50, Children 14+ £10, Children under 14 Free.
Sat to Weds 10am to 6pm, Thurs & Fri 10am to 9pm.
Bank Holiday times vary. See website for details