Review: Tate Modern’s Ten Days Six Nights is fun while it lasts

If only it was on for longer, I thought as I exited BMW Tate Live: Ten Days Six Nights at Tate Modern this morning. This ten-day extravaganza of installations, performances, film, music and choreography, is also a huge missed opportunity, given it finishes before the Easter holidays, despite the mammoth efforts of their curatorial team.

Since opening the new Switch House last summer, performance has been right at the heart of Tate Modern’s refreshed offering. Staged in the unique space of The Tanks, this exhibition celebrates them coming into their own, proving that art can create participation, and can be experimental, yet informal, playful and fun.

So what can you expect to see in daylight hours?

Isabel Lewis will be taking over the Tanks with her site specific installation, which unfolds between the Lobby and the East Tank as the days go by. Dotted with strange plants and impromptu dancers, she aims to host any visitors with everything from music, to food and scent, ensuring that you don’t leave without taking part in some way, shape or form. Her beguiling piece Occasions 2017, was housed in the East Tank today, providing an even greater expanse of foliage and choreography, to the backdrop of Fred Moten and Wu Tsang’s night-time musical and poetic accompaniment.

Moten and Tsang also provide a superb contribution to daytime proceedings, with their interactive installation Gravitational Feel. Using fabric and sound to trigger ‘chance events’, they’ve filled the rear of the Transformer Galleries with knotted fabric rope, suspended from the ceiling on moveable heads, inviting visitors to touch and animate the strands by passing beneath and between.

CAMP, a collaborative studio founded in Mumbai in 2007 are also sharing the space, demonstrating the power of a ‘window’ in a range of interesting ways. From their CCTV spy films taken at the Arndale Centre, to their oversized LED representation of an overheard conversations, their work challenges us to think about the role of electricity and surveillance in our modern lives. Particularly fun is Windscreen 2002, whereby standing in the space between the framed paper squares and the wall fan, will quickly reveal you as the subject of the work.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Fujiko Nakaya’s immersive fog sculpture, taking pride of place outside on the first floor terrace. The daughter of an inventor of the artificial snowflake, it’s ironic that her work now centres entirely on creating fog. The misty water vapour cuts a ghostly figure of those who choose to interact, creating something similar to Gotham City from the impressive skyline behind (complete with shrieks of terror by water-soaked bystanders).

What’s great about Ten Days Six Nights is that for once, visiting families can put aside their usual feelings of FOMO. With so much of the fun happening in the day, you’re bound to chance upon something fun, even if you’re dropping in as part of a random South Bank mosey. As the name suggests, however, there are also six nights of spectacular work, so if you’re lucky enough to get a night off, re-live the nineties, with Lorenzo Senni’s laser and sound installations, focussing on the hypnotic and repetitive aspects of trance music.

Ten Days Six Nights is at Tate Modern from 24th March until 2nd April 2017
Open daily 10am-6pm, until 10pm Friday and Saturday
Admission Free
See website for details of what’s on each day and each night

Alexander Calder’s Performing Sculpture is a hard act to follow

I couldn’t help but have a giggle at The Guardian’s Adrian Searle admitting that ahead of reviewing Performing Sculpture, which opened today at Tate Modern, he had long before relegated Alexander Calder’s work to ‘child’s play’, characterised by ‘New Yorker cartoons and twangly mobiles dangling over the trust-fund infant’s cot’. ‘The irony’, I thought. It was actually these qualities that I would be using in order to entice the kids to experience the sheer wonderment of this incredible exhibition – much of which has never been seen before on British soil.

One of the truly ground-breaking artists of the 20th century, Calder was born into a family of artists (his mother was a portrait artist and his father was a well known sculptor). With them keen for him to get a ‘proper’ job, he initially trained as an engineer, before enrolling at the Art Students League in New York. Following his dream, Calder eventually moved to Paris where he settled down and made a host of artistic friends, before developing the unique wire sculptures, which were soon to become his signature work.

I was hooked from the minute I entered the gallery. I almost completely overlooked the intricacies of his early work, having been immediately drawn to the wire sculpture portraits of art heroes such as Fernand Léger and Joan Miró, staring down at me from a great height. As with traditional sculpture, you can’t help but move backwards and forwards in front of them, peeking through the gaps in their caricature faces, desperate to see a nuance or change in the shadow reflected on the wall behind.

This early body of work also introduces Calder’s fascination with the circus and performance art, having been commissioned to illustrate the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus whilst jobbing on the National Police Gazette. With the mind of an engineer he was fascinated by the mechanics of the circus, the placement of wires and how (to the viewer on the ground), it was achieving something impossible, suspended out of reality and defying all logic.

Calder went on to set about creating an entire circus, complete with a full complement of characters that are bound to excite younger viewers. These early works are playful and figurative – such as Circus Scene (1929) and Acrobats (1927), but even the later mechanical pieces which are boxed in glass, require little more than a child’s eye and an active imagination to bring them to life, making many of the accompanying video demonstrations seem slow and clunky by comparison.

Calder’s work really came to life when he met abstract artist Piet Mondrian in 1930, and he began to imagine what could be achieved by bringing Mondrian’s famous geometric landscapes into the 3D space, setting them free to move about. This combination of strange shapes and glorious colour gave rise to the invention of the Mobile in the mid 1930’s, and a host of other ‘framed’ mobile sculptures, that now teeter way up high, safely away from curious little fingers, looking very much like illustrations of molecular science or abstract micro-worlds.

The splash of colour continues in a room dedicated to Calder’s ‘panel’ works, never been shown together before and typical of some of the artist’s more experimental work with painting and sculpture. This is a great room to allow kids some interpretation; I spotted a butterfly in Blue Panel (1936) and a gliding bird in Form Against Yellow (1936).

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Black Widow (1948), recently restored and standing in stark isolation before you exit through the gift shop. For me, however, the crowning glory is in the penultimate room, which from the moment you enter casts you out into an incredible universe of mobiles, a sea of drifting forms all moving on the natural air currents in the space.

Suddenly, instead of the usual rushed-parent desire to push on to what’s next, you’ll all be looking up in a zombie-like fashion, enjoying a rare, almost meditative, opportunity to be ‘in the moment’ at an art gallery, safe in the knowledge that anything of any value is safely strung up out of harms way. “Look a Snow Flurry!” and “How many circles are in Triple Gong?”, “If you stand for 5 minutes more it might come around again”. Games like these could run and run.

There’s so much to see here, it’s hard not to divert in different directions, almost completely missing exhibits like Small Sphere and Heavy Sphere, hidden in the nooks and crannies. The abundance of space between each exhibit makes you want to dash from piece to piece, but what I especially loved about Calder’s work was how he liberates the viewer by celebrating the unpredictability of what you’ll experience on your own personal visit. There’s no right or wrong view and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever see a piece in the same position twice, with sculptures free to thrive on the excess energy that you might bring to a room, or simply be still in the wake of your exit.

If that isn’t akin to how the average family experience an exhibition, then i don’t know what is.

Alexander Calder Performing Sculpture is on at Tate Modern until 3rd April 2016.
Sunday to Thursday 10am-6pm (last admission 5.15pm), Saturday & Sunday 10am-10pm (last admission 9.15pm)
Admission: Adults £18, Under 12’s free, Concessions and Family Tickets available

Tate’s new Turbine Hall commission promises to be a grower for families

Now, I have it on good authority, that scaffolding isn’t just the obsession of my 5-year-old daughter. I think it might be due to its appearance as the ultimate climbing frame, but everywhere we go, from South London to the South of Spain, scaffolding is excitedly drawn attention to. So if your child shares this strange obsession, the inaugural Hyundai Commission in the Turbine Hall of the Tate, is definitely one for you.

Unveiled today, Empty Lot is the first in a new series of site-specific commissions by renowned international artists, to occupy the iconic space, whilst they work towards a new Tate Modern due for opening in June 2016.

Best known for creating sculptural works from local and natural objects, artist Abraham Cruzvillegas has created two giant triangular platforms, propped up by a network of scaffolding towers to hold a geometric grid of 240 wooden planters filled with compost and soil contributed from parks and gardens across the capital.

Taking inspiration from a number of the artist’s interests, from seed bombing and guerrilla gardening to his Mexican heritage, including ancient ‘chinampas’, small grids of earth used to grow corn, peppers and tomatoes in an area that later became Mexico City, the artist is keen to instil the idea that anything can be useful and beautiful.

From the main viewing gallery, look out across the sea of curious planters, each waiting patiently for nature to decide their destiny from the many seeds or bulbs that could have found their way into the soil donations. Whatever grows will be welcomed; flowers, mushrooms, weeds and they also provide a fantastic reason to revisit the gardening experiment over the next 6 months to make new discoveries.

Family visitors might be disappointed that closer exploration of the planters isn’t possible and I expect every young visitor will want to walk amongst the rows to make their own discoveries, but rest assured; the world beneath the platforms gives way to other adventures.

Head down the steps and you’re treated to a maze of dimly lit structures, where the run-away space of the Turbine Hall that you’ve been used to has been transformed into an exciting network of pillars in which to hide and seek, or shelter from the strange world above. Using the colour key on the wall as a guide, look up to the underside of the platforms above and you can make out a map of London as it contributed to the project in colour spots. In the spirit of unity and accessibility, council estate collections are given equal place in the project alongside that of Buckingham Palace Gardens, with neither holding any certainty for what might grow and when. Part of the task of the work has been to question the relationship between city and nature, and this area creates the perfect underbelly; transitioning you into a space where light is less abundant and personal space minimised.

Although the artist was keen to respect the boundaries of his sculpture and keep the public off the paths, Tate will be updating their community on any discoveries that they make, plus there’s nothing stopping you making your own contributions to the planters. Tate is not actively encouraging seed-scatterers, but rumour has it that some cheeky visitors have already thrown in a few surprises. So with a sporadic plan for irrigation and the warmth of the growth lights, alongside the curious scrap-material lamps, who knows what surprises lay in store as time goes on? Bring a pair of binoculars and a curious mind, and see what you can spot.

Hyundai Commission 2015: Abraham Cruzvillegas: Empty Lot will be in the Turbine Hall until 3rd April. Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Sun-Thurs, 10am-10pm Fri & Sat. Admission Free.

The World Goes Pop: The Tate Bubble Finally Bursts

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that when it comes to introducing children of any age to art in a family-friendly environment, Tate Modern embodies exactly what parents are looking for. Together with its awe-inspiring setting, the former Bankside Power station, it’s ability to present world-class art in an accessible, relaxed and inspiring space, make it a firm favourite. Yet it’s this consistent and effortless engagement of the family visitor, time after time, that makes their new opening The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop even more of a disappointment.

Going beyond the traditional British and American boundaries of pop art, this exhibition draws work from a wider geographical context, surfacing the lesser-known contributors during the 1960’s and 1970’s, from countries and cultures that could have had little or no influence from the movement at large. As a result, theme’s stretch beyond consumerism and into a  wider set of socio-political commentary, taking on social imbalances, role of women and war. It wasn’t, however,  the absence of pop art’s big-hitters that proved a let-down on my visit, it was the uninspiring layout and the feeling of anti climax which might fail to hold the attention of some visitors young or old.

Don’t get me wrong, things started very well. I was excited to enter to the glare of little-known Ushio Shinohara’s giant fluorescent collage Doll Festival, a comment of impact of Americanisation on Japanese culture and a leading piece from the marketing of the exhibition. There was endless detail to spot in Equipo Cronica’s Socialist Realism and Pop Art in the Battle Field, borrowing popular icons from Warhol and Lichtenstein as well as other treasures hidden in the jungle leaves. Jerzy Ryszard “Jurry” Zielinski’s Without Rebellion also proved unmissable, as a giant-tongued send up of censorship in Poland. You’ll also need to work hard to keep them away from fighter plane cum space rocket Machine No. 7, but will soon realise this was a happy problem to have as you move further through the galleries. 

Rather than thought provoking, the imposing collection of ethnographies by Eulalia Grau, sat alongside the monochrome prints of Joe Tilson, felt repetitive and drab so soon in the exhibition, and I questioned whether they deserved a whole room at this point in the journey. The Pop Politics section managed to provide more interesting comment on a serious topic, especially through the clever arrangement of Nitsche’s giant dictatorship fly swatter and Rafael’s Canogar’s cowering figure in The Punishment

As an art-loving women, wife and mother, I was expecting to feel much more grateful for the role of so many female pop artists included in the exhibition, but the arrangement of the work seemed to jar with me somehow. Erro’s intricate interiors showing the demise of the American dream didn’t feel right in the same room as so many family pieces, and the unusual Woman Sofa by Nicola L was indeed eye catching, but didn’t really feel like pop art at all.

The Beauty of pop art for younger viewers is its ability to reflect the every day, every objects and everyday life, yet this felt woefully under represented in the room dedicated to the Domestic Revolution. I had to wait until the closing stages of this gallery before being offered any really engaging perspective, such as Kiki Kogelnik’s latex representation of the body in a commoditised state and the brain-puzzling roles of women represented by Teresa Burgas clever installation; Cubes.

I soon came to realise, that it wasn’t highlights that were missing from this celebration of ‘Pop’ from a different world, but rather the order and structure by which it was presented made it feel more like ‘noise’ and less like something important to say. 

Things failed to improve with Zelibska’s entire gallery dedicated to her tantric Hindu interpretation of the lady garden, providing far too many uncomfortable opportunities for younger visitors to peer into awkwardly placed mirrors, changing the meaning of the piece altogether. Movement into the final galleries and large scale pieces such as Claudio Tozzi’s Multitude and Nicola L’s magnificent Red Coat, should have provided that ‘wow’ moment I was desperately after, but the clumsy construction prevented me from ever really feeling involved.

It is in fact this story of ebb and flow which, for me, meant that The World Goes Pop failed to provide a memorable journey through this era, and by the final room, instead of feeling exhilarated from having seen the unseen, I felt slightly indifferent and had completely lost interest. I wasn’t even sure how many visitors had even noticed the 3D glasses on offer to view the Shell piece by Glauco Rodrigues, glasses which also brought to life some of the wonders of the Post Art apocalyptic series and the Laughing Cow wallpaper.

To be clear, I am of the opinion that exhibitions don’t have to be interactive to hold any attention amongst younger visitors. In fact, only at the end of last year, myself and the girls nervously made our first visit to the Saatchi Gallery, a heavyweight art institution, with a serious and unwavering approach to presenting contemporary art. We were pleasantly surprised by Post Pop: East meets West, and its celebration of the pop art legacy. This visual feast didn’t need any kind of contrived interactivity and instead stuck to exactly what you want from a major exhibition; structure, storytelling, surprise and scale. In fact, it’s marathon exhibitions such as these which have spoiled us into always expecting to end on a high, rather than trudging to this ever so slightly limp finish. 

So if the unwavering popularity of Tate Modern proves too much and you find yourself drawn in by the rich colour of Shinohara’s headline piece, give yourself a moment to teach your kids some valuable lessons in life. Never rest on your laurels no matter how good you are at something, and you can’t be perfect all the time. Even if your name is Tate Modern.

The EY Exhibition: The World Goes Pop is on at Tate Modern until 24th January 2016
The Eyal Ofer Galleries, Level 3, Admission: Adults £16 (concessions £14), Children under 12 Free
10am-6pm Sun-Thur, 10am-10pm Fri & Sat

Kids will go #Polke dotty for Sigmar

Other than the very strange short film that formed part of Duncan Campbell’s recent Turner Prize showcase, I had no prior knowledge of Sigmar Polke, and consequently no expectations as to whether Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010, a collection of his lifetime of work at Tate Modern, would be suitable for young visitors. Having recently been bought Tate membership for my birthday, I find myself in the enviable position of being able to attend any talks, events and exhibitions that take my fancy, without the anxiety of wasted admission fees and shortened visits if one of the little ones loses interest. With this in mind, I decided to take the girls for a quick nose around.

Room 1 provided a very strong start. Early work was based on the artist’s experiences of growing consumerism in post-war Germany, featuring a plethora of every day products in a mock pop-art style. The Sausage Eater (1963) was particularly good for a giggle, and it didn’t take the girls long to spot the images of socks, shirts and biscuits.

I was hurried into Room 2 by my pre-schooler who had fallen in love with one of the headline pieces of the exhibition, Girlfriends (1967). It was the pretty young ladies that initially caught her eye, but as we moved closer we noticed that this particular piece had been painted onto fabric, and contained thousands of tiny dots. Standing so close the image had become harder to see, so we held hands and took ten steps back, watching the image emerge from the canvas as intended. This really caught on, and became a really fun way for us to enjoy many of the dotted ‘raster’ and fabric pieces featured in this and later rooms.

Nobody could have prepared us for the excitement of Room 4, not even the nervous looking security guard, wondering how long Polke’s Potato House (1967) was going to last with us in the room. Made from garden lattices reinforced by hundreds of real potatoes, this magnificent lean-to wooden house is flat-packed and reconstructed at every destination, with new potatoes being added each time. We were lucky enough to stand under this amazing structure, using it exactly as Polke intended; a temporary shelter from which to look out onto the world. Unlike the ‘dissident dweller’ that inspired its creation, I was grateful that the girls were restrained enough to be completely respectful of authority, always looking but never touching.

We hurried through the space-like section in Room 5, and found ourselves inside the surprise hit of the show: Polke’s first film The Whole Body Feels Light and Wants to Fly (1969). Appearing to send up the seriousness of early performance art, its sentiment was working, quickly producing questions such as “Mummy, why is that man so serious?”. Both girls then became completely unmovable, transfixed for at least 10 minutes, whilst Polke performed with various objects, tying himself in string like Spiderman and waving around antenna.

This was a really hard act to follow, with rumbling tummies and fatigue limiting our enjoyment of the rest of the show, with the exception of the imposing Watchtower pieces, and the striking pink featured in Season’s Hottest Trend (2003) and Uranium (Pink) (1992). The hunger distraction was also great excuse for me not to have to explain any of the pornographic drawings in the penultimate room.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 is a substantial exhibition, and one I would highly recommend, even if like us, you only get to appreciate half of it. More accessible and engaging that you would initially assume, there is a lot to inspire viewers of all ages. In the style of Sigmar Polke himself, experiment with the work, wander each of the rooms and see what captures your imagination. I’m sure he would forgive you for taking some bits and leaving others. As with every major exhibition I attempt to see, my best advice would be to enjoy this in the spirit of the great Andy Warhol, one of Polke’s great influencers. Go along, take the kids and be reassured by his belief that “if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning”.

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963-2010 is at Tate Modern from now until 8th February 2015.
Adults £14.50, concessions available. Under 12s go free.

Richard Tuttle @Tate Modern: 15 minutes of play-filled peace

As many of us have discovered, Tate Modern is always a reliable choice for art-loving parents who want to combine a lovely day out spotting boats and buskers on the South Bank with introducing their children to modern art in a relaxed and inspiring environment. Well this autumn, Tate Modern is rewarding us richly with a magnificent sculpture in the Turbine Hall by American artist and poet Richard Tuttle.

I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language, is a major collaboration to celebrate the work of Tuttle, who has made his name through his delicate and playful work, combining sculpture painting, poetry and drawing, often using every day materials such as cloth, paper, rope and plywood. This commission in the Turbine Hall, features in conjunction with a major exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery surveying five decades of his career.

The sheer size of the structure, measuring over twelve metres in height, draped with brightly coloured fabric, drew an immediate “wow” from my two young viewers. From the viewing gallery beyond the main entrance hall, the section suspended from the ceiling was, to them, like the most exciting bridge you’d ever want to cross, whilst the larger support section rising up from the lower ground floor formed a giant beanstalk in their imaginations. Down in the vast hall itself, the kids loved running underneath it, seeing something different each time they looked up.

The good news is, for once, you don’t need to rush as the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition is running until 14th December, and the sculpture will remain resident at Tate Modern until 6th April 2015.

Want to see more? This bite-size beauty is perfect if you don’t think the kids will manage a whole room or exhibition at the Tate, but if you do want to see more, the Whitechapel Gallery is hosting one of their fantastic Crib Notes sessions on Tuesday 4th November at 10am. The session dedicated to parents and carers with children under 5, costs just £5 and includes a tour of the exhibition with Assistant Curator Poppy Bowers. For those of you with a buggy, the majority of the exhibition is on the ground floor, but there is a lift that can take you to the work featured on other floors (although be warned, the rest of the building can seem some-what maze-like). Failing that, you are welcome to leave your buggy with the cloakroom.

Whilst you’re there: Just along the river, enjoy a free lunchtime concert at the Southbank Centre with Mastercard’s Friday Lunch sessions. From classical and jazz, to folk and world, this is a great opportunity for the little ones to experience live music in a family-friendly (and easy-to-escape) space.