I’m a little late to the party on this one, and I hate being late to parties (unless it’s the kind of party that takes a while to get going….you don’t want to be making awkward conversation right at the start). I blame the move, but fact is this exhibition has been on since January and every toddler and his wife has been already. It closes on April 6th, so this post will almost certainly be irrelevant as soon as I’ve written it. But there are some pretty pictures and some tips on where not to buy a sandwich. That alone makes it worth a read, right?
<puts in space for the less-committed readers to exit page right>
The exhibition in question is “Sensing Spaces” at the Royal Academy, and it’s all about the feel of architectural spaces. I don’t understand art so I never quite know what does and doesn’t count as art. Apparently a load of plastic straws does. Either way, I’ve heard enthusiastic reports about the touchy-feely nature of it, which has scored quite a hit with toddlers and I felt the urge to take my own toddler and boy there to road test it.
Our day began somewhere fairly uninteresting, but let’s pick it up at the point where we’re leaving Green Park tube in the glorious spring sunshine:
For anyone planning on doing the same thing with a buggy, don’t follow the signs to the Royal Academy as that involves steps. Instead, you can get the ramp out into the park itself, and follow the path up to the road without a single step from train to street. Getting off the Victoria Line is far easier than the Jubilee, and you don’t feel like you’ve completed a 100km Challenge by the time you hit daylight. The only problem here is getting across Piccadilly itself – it’s a crazily busy road that has traffic lights for the vehicles but no pedestrian crossings. So you pretty much have to just wait for the cars to have a red and run. Then wait patiently to cross tiny Berkeley St, which does have a red man. Curses on you, Westminster traffic planners.
But it was worth it for a wander down one of London’s best window-shopping streets – ridiculously expensive jewellery, piles of macaroons, wealthy people brunching – you can see it all on Piccadilly. And the Royal Academy is quite picturesque too:
We were meeting Maria and Niamh there, and Maria remarked that it had a certain Kievian feel about it – all grand plazas and columns. But it’s OK – there were some authentically London-y pigeons about the place so you knew where you were. And so we went to buy our tickets. A word of warning – I hadn’t really registered that you had to pay for this, but that’s probably because I don’t go to art exhibitions very often. It’s £14 for an adult (or more if you Gift Aid), which is on the steep side if you’re not expecting it. But under-12s are free, so mentally divide that ticket price between the total number of people you’re taking in with you. Was it worth it? Possibly not that much, but it was definitely a fun exhibition and very unusual. Plus, we’d been to the Lego event for free, so I didn’t mind paying. As a side note, the lift was out of order so we took the stairs but the staff did offer to take us round to the other lift. There are quite a few steps to get up to the exhibit space, and a cheeky boy hidden behind a pillar:
I didn’t know quite how to explain to Reuben what we were going to, so I didn’t try. We just wandered through the dark room and the bright room, before he found the first prize of the day – the hidden stairs:
“What stairs?” I hear you ask. Well, take a look at the legs of that giant table above – each one is a spiral staircase, which brings you out on top of the structure. You’re close to the gold-leafed ceiling and there are special peep holes to look through to see features of the architecture. Our favourite was a gold angel who appeared to be holding a duck:
And here’s Reuben, staying still long enough for me to photograph him:
That didn’t happen very often. At the back of the viewing platform, there are ramps going back down to the floor and Roo discovered these pretty quickly. By the time I’d gone up the stairs with ToddlaGirl Roo was missing….but I could hear him. A faint sound of “wheeeeee!” as he ran back down the ramps. So we followed and got back down, only to hear him running around the top again. I think he was overexcited. I called for him to stop, and finally pinned him down at the top, where we had enough time to look at the duck-angel, just about. As you’ll see a few times, this exhibition really treads a fine line between art and playground and I felt sorry for anyone who was trying to enjoy the aesthetics in quiet contemplation. Reuben rarely does quiet and he does contemplation even more rarely. But running down ramps is one thing he’s good at.
The next room tipped right over into the playground side. It was a plastic tunnel with plastic straws sticking out of it. I don’t get how it’s art. But then, I don’t get art. What is was was lots of fun – the three kids grabbed straws and played for 30 minutes or so in and around the tunnel. They twisted the straws, stuck them into the holes in the tunnel, waved them around and relaxed on the straw-seats:
Eva pointed at them and said “bubble-wrap” (can you tell she’s moved house recently?) but they really were just made up of lots more straws, compressed into a honeycomb pattern like the tunnel itself. Surprisingly comfortable to sit on but bubble wrap would be more comfortable. I did some creating too, producing a quite lovely straw-necklace. I’m paranoid that Maris is going to steal my idea for her jewellery business, so do keep an eye on mariamadeit.com in case this appears:
Meanwhile, Maria herself was ace-ing the straw weaving, taking tips from the man who was seemingly employed to make lanterns out of drinking straws all day. It wasn’t a patch on my beautiful necklace, but I was grudgingly impressed:
And here’s the one that the man made for Reuben, purloined by Eva:
Meanwhile, someone else had done my work for me by weaving “Kate” into the tunnel:
The full sentence said “Andy 4 Kate” but seeing as Andy is either my brother-in-law or Eva’s godfather, let’s skim over those strange implications. I just enjoyed the fact that a fellow Kate had tagged the tunnel already.
The next room was almost as enticing to our small people. A maze of logs with a stony sensory area at the end, it was custom-designed for losing track of your child. For once I was glad that Reuben was so noisy, as it helped me keep a track on where he was. I was also glad that he was wearing a neon yellow t-shirt. His reason for racing ahead was apparently that he was being our tour guide but I seriously doubt his credentials. Still, he guided us to the place where you could jump on stones:
Eva and Niamh’s favourite bit was a little wooden feature where they could climb up some steps, disappear behind a panel and then re-emerge the other side. They loved doing that, running around in circles and giggling and would have done that all day if Reuben hadn’t ushered them on. He was taking his role of tour guide very seriously. Next stop was a film room, where a Japanese man was talking about void space. Niamh kept saying “dark” (it was quite dark), and Eva kept thinking her friend was talking about ducks, so said “duck! quack!” every time Niamh commented on the ambient lighting. The result was a lot of toddler giggling and a fairly swift exit from the film room, with the toddlers still saying “dark!” “duck!” “dark!” “duck!” between them. Ah, toddler humour…
We were all getting thirsty by this point, so went outside to visit the coffee stand in the courtyard. Things seemed a little confused there – we established they only took cash, but the person serving seemed to have to check before answering. Then they forgot Niamh’s cookie and there was general mayhem. Eventually we got what we ordered and perched on seats that were designed for artistic merit rather than comfort…even so, it was very pleasant out there, in the almost-sunshine.
Taking advantage of the near-warm conditions, we decided to go for a picnic in Green Park, stopping at M&S Simply Food on the way. This may have been a mistake. The “To Go” food was down a long and twisty staircase – not easy when you have a (now-sleeping) toddler in a buggy. Luckily Maria could watch her while me and Roo nipped down to get sandwiches, but my retail instincts tell me this is an unnatural layout. The tills also had a queuing barrier that made it almost impossible to navigate a buggy round, especially when another person with a buggy tried to get past. It was a bit embarrassing, especially as the cashier didn’t seem to be in a hurry to get my food through – we stalled for a long time on the “paying for a bag” bit of the process. It was a small space, packed with impatient Mayfair businessmen and a foolish place to attempt with children. So, I wouldn’t recommend it. A picnic in the park, followed by a play in St James’ however….just the ticket. And the exhibition was pretty ace too. You only have a few days left – go go go!