Thursday, 15 October 2009

New Children's Museum, San Diego

Oh wow! This place prides itself being unique in that it is a children's museum and a contemporary art museum all in one. There are no permanent collections, and every 18 months, the entire museum closes for a redisplay with new commissions. Based on thinking by Alan Kaprow (really need to read that book, Liz), it opened in 2008 and the first exhibition was 'Child's Play'. We were taken round by yet another lovely person, Lauren Popp, who manages the education programme, to see the latest display which only opened last week - 'Animal Art'. All about sensory overload, immersion, experiencing things in a bodily way. And do people know that they are playing in/with contemporary art? I don't know - but I am not sure that it matters. Something to think about further. It explored animals, creation, extinction, evolution - but in such a way as you don't need to engage with this. They have 3 concepts: think, play, create, and the whole experience is geared around these, with the art experience being the 'play' bit. And the artworks were fantastic: some had been made by artists who work with children often, others had never done things like this before. There was a Trojan Horse that filled the entire atrium space - where you could go in and they held story-telling, making stations everywhere with guides who were all art students leading bat-making workshops, clay making outside. There was a bubble machine, a bouncy castle that was a piece of contemporary art. Above all, an amazing balloon creature that they are going to plot as it withers and dies like an animal by photographing and displaying images in the gallery. Really inspirational and I am sure that we can take plenty of ideas from this. Fuzzy felt wall, even a climbing wall that was a work of art. And intimate spaces for younger people: a Barn Dance barn where light switches at toddler level activated lights, disco balls and line dancing music. A beautiful house with birds linking a school in Tihuana (over the border in Mexico) through an outreach project with this museum. Need to think more, but I think it's the most exciting experience/event I have seen that makes contemporary art fun and brings it properly to life. Integration of graphics, aesthetics of building and furniture plus values around recycling was done impressively.
It was great to be there with Rebecca and Katherine as we spent lunch talking about what we'd seen and how it could relate to our more traditional gallery spaces. And then we drove back along beautiful Californian coastline and got lots of tips on other places to see. Might have a swim now.

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