It seems that blogging is beginning to run in the family, as a trip to the Tate Modern to see their new Alexander Calder exhibition was not about me taking inspiration but my eldest daughter writing her own blog for the Tate Kids website. I would be neglectful not to make the most of the opportunity on what was not a natural first choice of destination for us. Tickets are not cheap at £18 for adults (£16.30 without donation, under 12s go free), when you have three kids including one with Autism, you never know if you are going to get into the exhibition let alone spend more than 10 minutes there. We normally opt for the free and low-key museum events.
Alexander Calder sounds intriguing, I am the one who needs to read up on him when the first thing my daughter asks is if he is still alive (I had to double-check, he died in 1976) but his work is so modern and fresh you can easily be forgiven for believing his sculptures are straight out of the studio. Born in 1898, he is known for his mobile sculptures, I have not had any kind of background in modern art so I am new to his work. But reading up on him, it was a wonderful thrill to know he was friends with Georgia O’Keeffe, I am a huge fan of hers and cannot wait for the exhibition on her work due at the Tate in 2016.
My middle daughter asks if she can have an audio guide, we ask the assistant if there is a kid’s guide, she assures me the guide will be fine. In fact it wasn’t strictly for kids and I felt the commentary was a little old for my 8 year old but in truth she loved finding the pictures on the digital guide and matching them up with the real thing in each room, she also enjoyed the soundtrack, something Calder himself would no doubt be pleased by. She often filled us in on what each sculpture was called, I think she loved the sense of control and power it gave on a day that was focussing a little too much on her older sibling.
The youngest sadly was not impressed but being five he rarely gets interested in anything other than Lego, but by the end he rallied. Just before we left the exhibition he surprised me by wanted to return to the beginning to see the ‘Fish Tank’ where wire fish hung suspended in a wiry underwater world. He wanted a postcard of it to pin-up in his bedroom at home, a small victory for me considering the grumpy expression he had at the start.
Although I have begun with an uninterested five-year old, this exhibition is in fact great for kids, the pieces are really engaging. The first we come to, ‘Hercules and Lion’, gave us all the chance to say what we thought we could see. My youngest thought it was a gorilla, it was great fun to piece together the sculptures. My eldest loved the head of ‘Medusa’, in the shadows on the wall she could see her head of snakes coiling and writhing.
The faces fascinated me, from the front they seem very flat, then with a step to the side and another look the wires suddenly show depth and fill out, often giving a very different impression. The circus theme of a number of pieces are fantastic for enticing children, the galloping horses look like toys desperately waiting to be pulled along, the peg dog in particular was charming.
In ‘Aztec Josephine Baker’ my middle daughter took great delight in telling me she could see her ‘big butt’. Attempting to raise the conversation level, we were in the Tate Modern after all, we talked about the emotions the faces portrayed, were they happy or sad? It was quite strange how some seemed happy and yet the shadows thrown on the wall behind give a completely different impression.
My eldest recalled last weeks astronomy homework with a number of pieces on the solar system, the spheres for here were dwarf planets and moons, only missing an asteroid belt or two to really bring them to life. My middle daughter felt some pieces, particularly those with movement, were like mini-games waiting to be played. Certainly one or two looked like the wire games where you have to pass a ring from one end to the other without setting off the buzzer.
We sat for a moment on our own in Room 9, large mobiles spun and twisted around us, I watched the interplay of colours and shadows as I watched the interplay of my children, sharing the audio guide and squabbling with each other. Room 10 became a giant nursery with mobiles swinging almost in an ethereal lullaby, sadly with no accompanying music.
I sat for a few precious moments on my own in the last room, Calder’s giant ‘Black Widow’ gently turning in front of me, it surprised me how delicate and yet bold it was. A small child was whisked past in a pushchair and shouted “It’s a very big dinosaur”, I couldn’t help but smile.
There was never quite enough time to really appreciate Calder’s work with three kids in tow, but I loved ‘Triple Gong, 1948’ it caught my eye and reminded me of the Tour de France, the ‘peloton’ whisking past, the coloured discs like wheels, small in the distance racing away, it had that sense of energy, colour and excitement. Naturally another favourite was ‘Blériot’, a beautiful gift for me to see, I instantly recognised that sense of beauty in design, even the yellow colour so reminiscent of the actual Bleriot I walk past so often at the RAF Museum. Yet this version, not grounded but inflight, gently and beautifully twisting in the faint breeze.
I was surprised by Calder, by the beauty and intricacy of the designs and shadows. It was a brilliant exhibition to take kids to, a chance for them to make their own connections and interpretations. All I missed was an opportunity to lie on the floor, my kids spread eagled around me looking up at these beautiful twisting sculptures, making shapes and recognising forms as we would of the clouds that scuttle across the sky. As for my daughter, to see what she thought you will have to read her review….
Alexander Calder runs from 11 November 2015 – 3 April 2016 for information on tickets please see the website.