Thursday, August 27, 2009

Museum Vignettes: Because the kids couldn't stop for just two seconds.

We took the kids to the Portland Art Museum this evening. My husband heard they had an Escher exhibit for a short time, and he wanted to make sure the kids got a chance to see it. Escher's Metamorphose is just downright cool.

Of course there was plenty more besides the Escher exhibit in there, and because this was the kids' first time in a real serious art museum, I felt it necessary to brief them in the car on the way.

"Now kids, there aren't many Mormons here, so naturally there aren't many Mormon artists here, which means that there may be some paintings or sculptures that have things that we would consider inappropriate."


"Like naked people."

"Naked people?"

"Yes, but you see, the important thing is not to panic. We don't have to sit and stare at it a long time, and we don't need to shout THIS IS WRONG. We just keep moving on to something else that doesn't show that kind of stuff. Okay?"

My three year old said, "Okay," like he knew exactly what I was talking about.

Once we got there, and scored a rare parking spot on the street, we had to try to work a parking meter that took debit cards and coins. (First time I'd ever seen one of those.) The first one didn't work and the instructions said to try a different machine. My hubby had to go down a block to get one to work. It gives you a little receipt that you stick on your dashboard. While he was off doing that, I parked the kids on the steps of the museum and there were doors that were open but I don't think it was the main entrance.

My seven year old daughter was jumping to go in, and was staring in the open doorways and she practically shouts, "That's inappropriate!"

I whipped around and tried to calmly remind her. "Remember what we talked about in the car?"

She looked at me with a horrified expression and harshly whispered, "But you can see her private parts!"

I thought, oh no, don't tell me they have a Georgia O'Keefe right in the foyer.

Turns out it was a replica of that famous Greek/Roman statue, you know, the woman without arms that's covered from the waist down and bare chested, can't think of it, oh yeah! Venus deMilo. That's the one. I reminded her we don't have to stare at it, we can choose to go look at something else. Thankfully my hubby was on his way back at that point and we all wandered around the museum, and we passed a few more naked women and men in stone and oil.

I don't know how much of anything they absorbed because it was all I could do to keep up with them. They didn't stop to really examine much at all.

"Let's go this way."

"What's up there?"

"Can we go back up those stairs?"

"Hey, Mom! I found a gold fountain!" (It was a brass drinking fountain next to the restroom.)

I remembered why children's museums were invented. In real museums, dour looking docents glare at any child not physically touching their own parents, look down their noses at parents who are trying to keep up and not let their little ones touch things, and sternly instruct older children to "stay at least six inches from the glass". And yet the museum lets in children 17 and under for free with paid adult admission. Conflicting message? Hmmm.

To be fair, there were a couple of corners that had something children could touch. The Escher exhibit had a video game: Using rules of perspective, the controller dipped and rotated a virtual house with a little walking figure, the objective being to get the figure to walk on nearly all the surfaces of the house without falling into oblivion. It was tricky and the game was projected on a large wall that everyone else could see. There was also a glass box with mirrors and electric lights inside that made it seem that the mini disco balls inside were repeating into forever.

And then there was the tatoo machine. Two large digital monitors, back to back, with joysticks to scroll through tatoo images projected onto people. You could stand on one side of the machine, choose a tatoo, and if you held still a camera would take your picture with the tatoo on your face, hand, arm, or other patch of skin. The kids have heard "your body is a temple" for so long, they couldn't resist seeing what they looked like with a tatoo, if only temporarily. The machine impressed me more than the pictures. That machine complemented a virtual exhibit the museum is running on tattoos. You could sit and watch a projection wall slideshow of local Portlanders show off their tatoos. Some were typical biker type things, other pinup girl types, and then some were just covered head to toe. When the tattoos got too racy, we moved on. To see the lengths people go to make themselves look like cockatoos amazes me.

At one point we heard a piano playing, and the kids were drawn up four flights of stairs to find the source. Turns out it was a Sanford Biggers exhibit. Imagine a piano growing out of a tree, and it's playing itself. My three year old watched those keys go up and down and he pointed to it and said, "Ghost." I have to say it was one of my favorites in the museum.

When we finally got out of the labyrinth that is downtown Portland and headed home, I asked the kids what they liked best.

The 12 year old girl liked a television with toys and all kinds of other objects stuck to it and painted with bright primary colors.

The 9 year old boy liked the Han dynasty era artifacts from China and Japan.

The 7 year old girl liked the self playing piano.

The three year old boy had no opinion but was begging for a treat, the reward for his "good" behavior.

I was glad they didn't mention the "inappropriate" material. I know I couldn't stop them from seeing it, but I hope they focused on the better stuff.


Mamma Christine said...

How fun! Kids in public, especially young ones, is always an adventure, but it sounds like you had a great trip! Kind of day memories are made of (despite the ever grouchy docents).

Sarah Bishop Jackson said...

Loved that piano tree thing.
Kids just tell it like it is, don't they.

Lourie said...

How can we expect our youth to grow into cultured adults if we don't show them what culture is? Props to you for taking your kids to this museum. It sounds awesome, and hey they were free! I love that they each took something from it. It's hard to take them places like that, but they need it.

Pam said...

I never did take you kids to a museum as I remember, so I didn't ever have that conversation with you about some of those pictures. It took me until I was much older to finally decide it really is a form of pornography! HAhahaha.
Sounds like you handled it just fine.