Seeing is believing

It’s hard to know how to pitch a family trip to an art gallery these days. When the girls were small, I’d steal the V & A’s once-controversial line, and promise, ‘an ace cafe, with a museum attached.’ When they were a bit older, I’d go heavy on the gift shop (particularly relevant at the V&A, which sells fantastic swag which you can just about convince yourself is historical). Nowadays, with Child One studying A level Art (gulp) and Child Two just starting her GCSE course, I feel I ought not to have to work too hard. They’re officially supposed to like art. Ah, but now there’s Child Three and Child Four to think of, and of course their interests, at 7 and 5, ¬†are wildly different from those of haughty teenage girls.

I needn’t have worried too much with the Saatchi Gallery’s Chess exhibition, as the smallies are very keen on chess (thanks to various iPhone apps) and I just happened to drop it into the conversation with Child Two that the gallery is in the King’s Road. Full of shops, including some of our favourites, L K Bennett, Cath Kidston, Liz Earle … you get the picture. Sold. Child One was too busy doing real art, though.

Our first surprise was Child Two yelling out, ‘there’s my friend on the back of that bus!’ Once it was clear that no-one had been squashed in a horrible accident, Child Two explained that her chum was in an ad for the school, playing a trumpet, on a bus bound for South Kensington. As you do. Gosh, you do have to be careful which boxes you tick on these parental consent forms. I’m not sure I’d want my children all over public transport, though the girl in question couldn’t be nicer and is a fine example of trumpet-blowing expertise.

By the time we’d got to Sloane Square, it was time for lunch, by way of buying Child Four some socks in Peter Jones as his shoes were rubbing and inevitably leaving the shop with a bag of Lego bigger than both smallies combined. We found seats outside in a little parade of shops tucked away from the main drag, and settled down. We were just trying to find some common ground in between swordfish and fishfingers when Child Two leaned over. ‘There are three people from Made in Chelsea over there!’ she squeaked. Sure enough, on virtually the next table, were some of the MiC characters-slash-actors-slash-personalities. I’m afraid Child Two loves the show, she has my weakness for soaps and almost any kind of vague narrative, even one which features apparently brain-dead poshie models from shampoo ads drawling non sequiturs at each other while attending heavily stylised parties. One of them was Olly, the bisexual one with the long swishy hair like a prancy pony’s mane (yes, I’m afraid I have watched an episode. I totally blame Child Two). In big news for MiC fans, he has had a hair cut and dyed his skin orange, which does, I have to admit, bring out the colour of his eyes (and yes, I was gawping). He also seemed to be doing that thing of pretending he was unconscious of the people around him, yet simultaneously making it clear that he wanted to be looked at. With him was Gabriella, and a boy whose name I’ve forgotten, whom Child Two was convinced was wearing make-up.

Just a casual lunch, daaaarling

I thought it was rather sweet that they do actually seem to be friends in real life, if this is what their real life consists of – hanging out at restaurants in Chelsea. I only hope that their conversation was a little less stilted and disjointed than it is in the series. I was trying to eavesdrop to check, but alas, we were too far away. Oh, for one of those clever ear things on strings that Harry Potter had at his disposal.

After this high excitement and low culture, the gallery, all soothing white expanses and touches of exposed brickwork, seemed doubly austere. For once, the age difference was obliterated – we were all a bit baffled by some of the exhibits. TL cleverly worked out that one installation, featuring a film of a man in orientalish costume moving a knight across the board, was a reference to the first automated toy, as the word ‘Turk’ was inset in parquetry work into a small chessboard on a plinth. He explained it all to us and a lady who was also in the room thanked him, too. Maybe the artists (or maybe Saatchi?) think it’s a shame to give everything away, but the odd clue might be nice. We all liked the Good vs Evil chessboard, though, with the likes of Dracula and Cruella de Ville vs Jesus and Superman. Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst produced exactly what you would expect – an embroidered patchwork board featuring a fanny and a pharmaceutical cupboard with mirror respectively.

Unfortunately, Saatchi seems to like his art free range – not many of the exhibits were protected at all from the public. There were plenty of ‘don’t touch’ signs, but small children can be selective in their reading skills…. suffice to say, we ended our visit surrounded by curators in Saatchi Gallery T shirts, hovering like particularly peckish vultures around a frail herd of cows. It rather reminded me of Saatchi’s wife, Nigella Lawson’s fabulous recipes for children’s cupcakes, so pristine, so beautiful, so perfect that a child could never have been within three feet of them, let alone helped in their creation. I know children have to behave in galleries, I know that running/shouting/touching disturb other people and damage the artworks. But still. It’s hard enough to get children into galleries, without the galleries themselves trying to get them out.

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