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.


Top picks for families visiting David Hockney

Yesterday morning I was at Tate Britain, lucky enough to preview the most extensive retrospective of the work of acclaimed British artist David Hockney. Spanning some 60 years of work, this exhibition is an undertaking for even the most hardy of visitors, so how on earth do you take on the task of navigating 12 rooms and over 200 works, if you’re visiting with the kids in tow?

Hockney’s work is brilliantly bold, colourful and popular, which also makes it quite accessible, but underlying this, it contains so many narratives and themes that children (and parents) can easily connect with. How to put your own stamp on things, how to get a reaction, but also how to replicate your own experience of being alive in the world when you’re moving at a hundred miles an hour!

Sadly, and a little short-sighted, Tate don’t appear to have much in the way of family related activities around the exhibition. West London Saturday school and after school group Imagine Art Club are running an Hockney for Kids event in May, which has seen an unprecedented response, but outside of this its pretty much a self-guided experience.

To help you get the most of this colossal exhibition, here’s my top tips for visiting on borrowed time:

Room 1 – Play within a Play
Illustrating Hockney’s playful take on reality versus illusion, this room will kick-start your interaction with the work. Is that a real person squashed behind the glass in Play Within a Play? And is that a circle on a blue background? Or a Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool? Is Blue Stools a photo or a painting? A great room for guessing games.

Room 4 – Sunbather
The perfect room to plot down with a sketchbook and replicate the stark colours and geometric shapes of Hockney’s 1960s and 70s LA. Here you’ll find sunlight, blue skies, palm trees and space, but look closer at A Bigger Splash, and you’ll find Hockney’s playful presence (painstakingly painted splash-droplets) amongst the flat and the brash.

Room 5 – Towards Naturalism
Home to the acclaimed double portraits, here things become more striking and spectacular, as Hockney began to paint more realistic, life-size representations of close family and friends. Go forth and find your favourite pairing. Although the static nature of this style eventually troubled Hockney (whose desire was to appear more dynamic), children will appreciate the humble imperfections present in much of this work.

Room 10 The Wolds
These large-scale puzzle-like Yorkshire landscapes produced for the Royal Academy show in 2012, continue to shake off ‘naturalism’, borrowing ideas from Van Gogh, with a three-point perspective offering a different window onto the same world. I had to look twice before I determined the real source of the life-like shadows on May Blossom on the Roman Road, and there isn’t a single young visitor that won’t want to get lost in Woldgate Woods.

Room 11 Four Seasons
If you’ve been racing through up to this point, you’ll welcome this unavoidable chance to stop and stare. Here, four, nine screen digital walls celebrate the seasons by repeatedly filming the same journey, in order to capture the experience as an on-the-ground observer. Enjoy the child-like excitement of crispy autumn leaves, the magic of falling snow flakes, and the emergence of spring sunshine.

Room 13 iPads
As parents, the subject of screen time forms endless debate, yet here, we see a master of art embracing technology to experiment with new styles and demonstrate the complexity of their thinking. There are some 78 iPad and iPhone ‘doodles’ in this room, and watching work ‘build’ provides awe-inspiring insight into how Hockney’s subtle touch turns a simple work of art, into a world-beating masterpiece.

Whilst studying at the Royal College of Art in the early 1960’s, Hockney lost direction, intimidated about what might lie ahead. It was at this point that his friend and art contemporary R B Kitaj asked him a poignant question – Why don’t you only focus on the things that you love? This sound advice led onto a lifetime of painting, drawing and photography, presented with unique character and a strong sense of wit. If you’re visiting this spectacular show with children, you would do well to heed the same advice. It’s impossible to do it all, so focus on what you love and all the rest will fall into place, and that’s your best bet for navigating this landmark exhibition.

David Hockney is at Tate Britain from 9th February until 29th May 2017
Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG
Open daily 10am-6pm
Admission £19.50 Adults, Children £17.50, Under 12s free (up to four per family)

Cheeky Turner Prize 2016 proves a trail of temptation for families

Promising to be the most inclusive show in its history and inviting reaction from every corner of the visiting public, Turner Prize 2016 opened today, returning to Tate Britain after two years away. This incredible tale of visual seduction might be a fantastic feast for the eyes, but be warned visitors with young children! You’ll need to beg for their very best behaviour as this trail of temptation is dangerously at risk of inviting a little more ‘feedback’ than they probably want.

Yikes, sounds tricky. So is it worth taking the little ones? With this briefing – absolutely yes.

What’s it all about? 

Established in 1984, Turner Prize is awarded annually to a young, emerging artist in recognition of them producing an outstanding exhibition or body of work within the last year. Past winners include Grayson Perry, Anish Kapoor and Gilbert and George.

Who is there to see?

The beauty of the exhibition is that it is vast and varied, encompassing a range of media, styles and stories.
This year’s shortlist features:

Helen Marten
Busy parents and carers will definitely identify with this Macclesfield-born artist whose work represents three aspects of daily life, drawing attention to its pace and encouraging us all to slow down. Using everyday objects, either handmade or found in unusual surroundings, she leaves us in a visual riddle as to what has occurred. Lunar Nibs 2015 in particular appeared like most jobs in my life – unfinished and interrupted.

⭐ Family highlight: Helen’s installations contain loads of curious playful items that I would liken to a beach combing walk along the Thames Path. This work is great for a game of ‘I Spy’ or for picking and ticking off items that you see.

Anthea Hamilton
This Londoner’s ‘pop art’ style is all about giving an ‘experience’ to the visitor, resulting in an amusing, bold and hugely accessible collection of murals, sculptures and installations, all of which are anchored in real life.

⭐ Family highlight: The ‘butt’ or Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce) is a guaranteed giggle but surely is now more photographed than Kim Kardashian’s? Of course don’t miss it (you can’t) but something really wow is her hanging ‘pants’ or Chastity Belt installation, based on medieval locks of the same style and set in ‘the London sky at 3pm on a sunny day in June’.

Josephine Pryde
Questions, questions, questions. Sound familiar? Pryde is famed for posing a range of questions about her own interactions with the art world. Favouring photography and sculpture, her New Media Express train might have drawn the most attention when she was originally shortlisted, but her cameraless photographic technique as featured here alongside it are particularly fascinating.

⭐ Family highlight: Although ‘Baby Wants To Ride’ is a shadow of its former moving self, it is still lovely to look at. It might, however, prove too tempting (or disappointing) for some younger viewers.

Michael Dean
Exhibiting a strong social and moral compass, Dean deliberately utilises recognisable and ‘democratic’ materials from the urban landscape and sculpts them into words, or into forms that often resemble human bodies. Although quite often the words can’t be read, the sculptures force us to think about our own interaction with the world.

⭐ Family highlight: Dean has extended the temptation further with £20,436 arranged on the floor in a giant collection of gleaming (and grubby) 1p pieces. It’s a powerful way to represent the poverty line for two adults and two children. Tip: from the viewing point at this dead-end, hold hands and carefully navigate your way back around the ‘fenced’ entrance through the recurring ‘family of four’ sculptures that represent your solemn peers. Easy to get in huh? Impossible to get out – perhaps what the artist intended? These pennies, however, are not for pinching (you’ve been told).

Other highlights

⭐ Tuesdays! Putting its money where its mouth is in a desire to cast the Turner Prize net wider, for the first time ever, Tate has made every Tuesday ‘Pay What You Can’. Perfect for those put off by high ticket prices, which can be money down the drain if you’re visiting with children and you have to bail.

⭐ Comments wall: No visit to the Turner Prize would be complete without a read of the comments wall at the end, before adding your very own.

What’s also great about this year’s show is that (if the kids behave) you can enjoy every last drop. Whereas in past shows you might have had to race past any dark, violent or sexually explicit material, this year’s exhibition contains no such content. Outside of Michael Dean’s very moving presentation, the remainder of the show is surprising, colourful and even a bit of a giggle. So, with filming, photography and even Facebook Live being welcome to gauge reactions inside, the message to go forth and explore this year’s shortlist is coming through loud and noisy. Hooray.


Turner Prize is on at Tate Britain, Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG until 2nd January 2017
Daily 10am-6pm, Admission £12 Adults, Children 12-18 £9.50, concessions available
The winner will be announced on 5th December
Visit website for more information

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.