living a well tended life... at any age

noah “experiences” maurizio cattelan (and how to survive – and enjoy – a museum trip with a toddler)

I had mixed feelings about taking Noah to the Maurizio Cattelan “All” retrospective at the Guggenheim, but I was frankly dying to see it. The exhibit was comprised of 128 pieces, suspended by cables in the museum’s rotunda. The idea behind this unusual presentation was to “upend the ordered hierarchies and conventional viewing conditions of the museum retrospective by suspending … [the] entire body of work in  a disorienting, seemingly haphazard mass.”

Right – but what about the Hitler piece, images of death and nude female torsos?

I rationalized decided that most of the graphic symbolism would go over Noah’s head, and that it would probably be fine. Plus, it was the Guggenheim – my hands-down favorite museum in all of New York. We were going.

It was SO cool.

The impact of seeing all of the artist’s pieces hanging in the center of the museum cannot be properly captured in these pictures (especially while minding a moving toddler). And it only got better. As I always do when I visit the Guggenheim, I take the elevator to the top and then walk down the spiral ramp to the bottom. This was especially meaningful to the exhibit’s experience as you viewed the pieces from different perspectives as you made your way around and down.

Ironically, there were a ton of school kids there that day, drawing in their sketchbooks and eagerly taking in the visual cacophony with obvious excitement.

And Noah? He loved it. His favorites were the “headless” horse (“where its head Mommy?”), the big “Z”s (boy LOVES to announce his letters) and the dinosaur skeleton.

And of course, the ramps.

We went up to the top and down again three full times and I loved watching him “spy” something new on each trip.

I am often asked how I schlep a young child in to the city for various shows and exhibits, without losing my mind or experiencing multiple meltdowns.

Truthfully? It wasn’t always this way, especially when Chelsea and Conor were little. I made lots of mistakes but acquired some tips along the way that I can share with you here:

Do your homework – I always try to read up on any exhibit prior to going. It’s helpful to understand the scope of the exhibit, along with special hours, “kid-friendly” talks or activities, etc. If it’s a large exhibit I try to hone in on pieces I think will be of particular interest and find those first, in case things don’t “pan out” all that well. Which leads to the next tip:

Manage your expectations – Pre-kids, I was accustomed to spending hours and hours leisurely making my way through museums and galleries. This is unlikely to happen with little ones in tow. Prepare to spend no more than one hour with very small children, and consider that a success. Take a lunch or snack break and if they’re up for more, great. If not, don’t push. An hour with a toddler is about all they can manage and you can be sure that they got something out of the experience. That said, if you are sensing that they are completely disengaged and uninterested, be prepared to call it quits. You tried, and that’s a good thing.

Be selfish –  If there is a show that YOU want to experience fully – with no distractions or interruptions – do not bring your toddler, if at all possible. Leave him with your spouse, a grandparent or a sitter. You’ll both be happier for it.

Exit through the gift shop – I always try to purchase a small memento of our trip. If there was a particular piece that my child enjoyed I look for something in the gift shop that relates. It can be something small and inexpensive – a magnet or a postcard – but it helps him remember what he saw, and we can talk about it later or show Daddy. In the case of the “headless horse” that Noah liked so much, I could not find anything at the museum shop. So when we got home I did an image search on-line, found a picture and printed it out. Cost? Nothing.

Start with YOU – Art and design are passions of mine. There was no way I was going to stop enjoying those pursuits just because I had kids. And I know that the secret to the success of any outing is my own genuine enthusiasm. So if art isn’t your “thing”, don’t push it. Maybe there’s a friend who takes her kids and would be willing to take yours too. Or a grandparent or uncle. When I’m excited about an activity it’s much easier to get Noah jazzed about it. Conversely, if you’re dragging your feet at the prospect of touring a museum or gallery, your kids will definitely pick up on it. Not great for either one of you.

Oh – and he totally didn’t notice the naked torsos.

Whew.

http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/exhibitions/past/exhibit/3961

14 Comments

  1. Zoe Denahy on February 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Kinda of looks like a floating I spy book!

    • sheri silver on February 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      That’s exactly what it was like! 🙂

  2. Leslie on February 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    I loved this exhibit but could never quite describe it. You describe it perfectly and with such wonderful photos. Thank you for taking me right back to the top of the ramp!
    🙂

    • sheri silver on February 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm

      Thank you so much Leslie!

  3. Hotly Spiced on February 12, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    What a great day out. I love how you take Noah with you. It’s a dream of mine to one day get to the Guggenheim museum. One day! I bought a zoo pass so I could take my little man as often as possible but so it didn’t cost as much and, if he’d had enough we could go and not have to stay all day just to get our money’s worth. It’s one of Alfie’s favourite places.

    • sheri silver on February 12, 2012 at 8:54 pm

      The zoo pass is perfect for that – whenever we have a membership I go more often and don’t feel so pressured to stay all day!

  4. Lisa Sperling on February 13, 2012 at 11:59 am

    I’ve read about this exhibit and it looks and sounds amazing! I loved reading about your own perspective and the way your son experienced it. He is so cute!

    • sheri silver on February 13, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Thank you Lisa (we think he’s pretty cute too, but then again we are somewhat biased…)! It was a great exhibit; I’m SO glad I got to see i! Thanks for writing!

  5. Jennifer Cullen on February 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I loved seeing this through Noah’s eyes. And it makes me want to high tail on up to NYC to see the exhibit.

    • sheri silver on February 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      Thanks Jennifer!

  6. Kate (Embarrassment of Riches) on February 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who loved this exhibit! I think starting at the top and working your way down is the way to go. Did you see the piece (in the top half) that had elevators doors that opened and closed? So cute!

    • sheri silver on February 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      I did NOT see that piece! I got so involved with what Noah was looking at that I missed, I’m sure, so much!! I was thrilled to get there though – glad you liked it too! 🙂

  7. Melanie on February 13, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    How many times did you get yelled at about taking photos in there? When I went a couple of years ago I got some warnings and evil eyes from the guards. 🙂

    That’s so cool that you take Noah on museum outings and he enjoys it. We’ve taken Nathaniel to so many exhibits already, and he’s only 18-months-old! One of them was a really cool street art exhibit that included a skateboard ramp. He had fun “skateboarding” in his stroller! 🙂

    • sheri silver on February 13, 2012 at 9:34 pm

      Funny – I don’t know if they changed the rules for this exhibit, or in general since you were there. The only time I was scolded was when I stuck my arm out over the railing to get a closer picture – DEFINITELY not allowed! That street art exhibit sounds great!

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