Spending this half term in London visiting art galleries with a child is a test of endurance. All the big names are here, with blockbuster shows in contemporary art that are spot-on for the selfie generation. A nine year old should be enchanted by the chance of stepping into indoors mist & fog (Olafur Eliasson @TateModern); getting your eyes blurry while looking at lines (Bridget Riley @haywardGallery); or stepping into a steel tunnel and maze (Anthony Gormley @royalAcademyOfArts).
Only that… we are in London! And this means everyone else is here. The entitled crowds are here. And experiencing these exhibits becomes something far removed from what most artists may have intended while conceiving their work.
I have been lucky to experience a Gormley tunnel in Matera, Riley’s optic work in Glasgow and Eliasson’s variations on the weather in São Paulo. I was by myself in those occasions, alone with the work in empty galleries. My son has not been so lucky. So, for him, these artists are all about queues, mobile phones, fed-up gallery attendants telling you to move on, and noise, lots of noise.
There is an element of fun and momentum in the blockbuster experience. But a possibility for art to enable contemplation, intimacy or transmit much more than crowd-management directives and squeezed Instagram moments, is not…
(…unless you are in Paris (and they create distraction free pods for you listen and close your eyes! See my review of Francis Bacon at the Centre Pompidou)