Curator Kate Ryan of the Queensland Art Gallery’s Children’s Art Centre discusses approaches to deepening the engagement of children and households with contemporary art….

With over a decade of experience, the Queensland Art Gallery Children’s Art Centre has become a leader in presenting contemporary art for children, young people and families. Since establishing a dedicated focus on innovative programming for children and family audiences in 1998, the Gallery has collaborated with more than 100 Australian and international contemporary artists to develop interactive projects, large-scale installations, online multimedia interactives and workshops for children and families.

With the opening of the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in 2006, the Children’s Art Centre has featured two dedicated exhibition spaces for children and families at GOMA, as well as integrating projects within temporary exhibition spaces across the Gallery’s two sites. Since this time, the Children’s Art Centre has featured an annual exhibition of large-scale, specially-developed artist projects by contemporary Australian artists and an annual touring program, which has enabled children and families from regional and remote Queensland greater access to their state gallery. To further expand opportunities for children to engage with contemporary art, the Gallery commenced a dedicated publishing program in 2010.

One of the Children’s Art Centre’s highlights of 2011 was the exhibition ‘Surrealism for Kids’, held in conjunction with the landmark exhibition from the Centre Pompidou, Paris ‘Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams’ (Gallery of Modern Art, 11 June – 2 October 2011). Displayed across the Children’s Art Centre, Surrealism for Kids aimed to highlight key themes explored in the exhibition. Through eight interactive projects, young visitors were encouraged to discover and engage with the ideas of surrealist artists, capturing their own surreal visions of the world and exploring the methods behind some of the most powerful and imaginative art of the twentieth century. ‘Surrealism for Kids’ included large-scale installations and environments, as well as drawing, making and multimedia activities.

Young visitors with the title wall of the Surrealism for Kids activity space featuring Herbert Bayer’s Glas Augen (Glass eyes) 1928 / Purchased 1997 / AM 1997-26 / Collection: Musee national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris / © Herbert Bayer/VG Bild-Kunst. Licensed by Viscopy, Sydney, 2011 / Photograph: Katie Bennett

Installation view of Surrealism for Kids, 2011 / Photograph: Natasha Harth

Surrealism for Kids complemented the surrealism exhibition perfectly for my three children (ages 4, 6 and 8). It made the exhibition come to life for them.
(Parent’s comment)

Inspired by surrealist Oscar Domínguez, the Decalcomania activity captured the imagination of Gallery visitors. In 1936, Domínguez introduced the surrealists to his version of this printing method — a print made with blots of ink or watercolour on a sheet of paper. At the Gallery, young visitors were invited to select a pre-printed ink-blot template and add their own drawing elements to create a picture inspired by their imaginations. Over 46,000 drawings were produced using ink-blot templates during the exhibition period.

A child creating a Decalcomania ink-blot drawing, 2011 / Photograph: Katie Bennett

Relating to Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, ‘Make a sculpture’ invited young visitors to create their own surrealist sculptures using everyday objects provided in the space. A multimedia component enabled visitors to photograph their finished sculptures and add them to a collective digital display. Participants also had the option of sharing images of their sculptures with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter and email.

After creating his sculpture my son said that the Children’s Art Centre was the best place he had ever been to. (Parent’s comment)

A young visitor constructing a ‘ready-made’ sculpture, 2011 / Photograph: Katie Bennett

Acknowledging the surrealists’ interest in the written word, the exhibition also included ‘The Surrealist Chronicle’, a specially-developed multimedia project. Styled as a broadsheet newspaper and featuring animation, sound and visual effects, ‘The Surrealist Chronicle’ allowed visitors to participate in the text and language games the surrealists once played: How to make a dadaist poem, Parallel story, Exquisite corpse and Directions for use. The results of each game could be shared with friends and family online. Participants were able to select from four different interactive activities:

We couldn’t tear our son away from ‘The Surrealist Chronicle’. We really liked being able to send his results from each game home so we could all share what he created and talk about the ideas behind the games as a family. (Parent’s comment)

‘Surrealism for Kids’ helped attract more than 64,000 children to the Gallery of Modern Art during the ‘Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams’ exhibition. Some 26 per cent of visitors to the exhibition indicated that they were first-time attendees of the Gallery, while 74 per cent made more than one visit. This engagement of children and both new and returning visitors was especially rewarding, reaffirming the Children’s Art Centre’s aim to enable Gallery visitors to have new and valuable experiences through the visual arts.

Kate Ryan
Curator, Children’s Art Centre
Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art

Feature image:  Installation view of children and families visiting Surrealism for Kids, 2011 / Photograph: Katie Bennett