Saturday, August 22, 2009

Contemporary Art for Parents

Today's NY Times includes a complaint by a parent after bringing his 7 year old twins to P.S.1 to see contemporary art and was met with a piece I agree is not appropriate for children. The writer's complaint was not about the inclusion of the artwork in this gallery, but the parent was upset to find the wall label warning of graphic content was much too small to notice. As a parent, I certainly understand the uncomfortable nature of this situation. Yet, parents are generally hardwired to avoid such situations because it is in our nature to protect our children or at least protect ourselves from embarrassment. If P.S 1 truly is one of Fred Bernstein's favorite places to see contemporary art, heck, if visiting contemporary art galleries is one of his favorite past times, he should have known prior to bringing his two boys to the gallery not only what to expect, but exactly what was showing in this particular exhibition.

As a parent and an arts advocate in Cincinnati, I've found myself pulled in opposing directions especially in regards to the Contemporary Art Center. Aware of its historical place in art censorship, I look forward to challenges any exhibition may present and encourage friends to visit regularly. Though as a parent of young children, many social circles in which I find myself result in planning parent/child play dates that include the Cincinnati Zoo, The Museum Center, or simply one of the city parks. The pull comes when a parent asks me what I think about taking their kids to the Contemporary Art Center. I have no problem encouraging these parents to take their children to the CAC UnMuseum where some of the best and most fun children's art education events take place. But I quickly warn them to simply take the elevator directly up to the sixth floor, by-passing all exhibition spaces for fear my friend will see something they do not want their children to see. This directing people away from art galleries goes against everything I am...even a parent of a 5 and 11 yr old.

To try correct this internal conflict, I encourage parents to visit the CAC exhibitions to preview the shows before attending with their children. But to parents whose schedule, both work and play, revolve around their children, this is a tough sell. The CAC perhaps like all contemporary art museums would be thrilled to have every parent visit at least once, two visits per exhibition is just unimaginable. Further, if the one visit means heading straight to the UnMuseum (an interesting problem for further contemplation), the CAC is pleased to oblige.

Still this does not solve my internal conflicted guilt over possibly contributing to the censorship of the CAC and yet working to be a powerful advocate for the local arts. As our children return to school, I invite any parent who would like to join me or their friends to visit the exhibitions at the CAC this year for an adult-only preview. You may find that you would like to share the exhibition with your own children during a second visit.


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