Celebrating 15 years of children’s exhibitions

21st Century: Art in the First Decade QAG publication
Coinciding with the ’21st Century: Art in the First Decade’ exhibition 21st Century Art for Kids 2010 profiles art works, childhood images and stories by more than 15 contemporary artists from around the world whose works are held in the Collection.

On Friday 26 July, the Gallery’s Children’s Art Centre marks 15 years of presenting exhibitions for children and families with our current exhibition ‘Gordon Hookey: Kangaroo Crew’. Here are some of the highlights of what has become an extensive and important part of the Gallery’s programming.

It is extraordinary to consider that more than two million young people have visited and enjoyed the Gallery’s exhibitions for children and families since 2000. This year, we celebrate the milestone of 15 years since our first children’s exhibition, ‘Portraits are People Pictures’ in 1998. Since then, the Gallery has strived to develop innovative and interactive ways for children to share in the awe-inspiring art experiences that adult visitors have —considering their visitation not only necessary to its future but also valued in its own right. These offerings, and their social and educational possibilities, are breaking down outmoded stereotypes about the types of experiences that can be had by visitors to art museums.

Collaboration with contemporary artists has driven much of our programming for children and families, with more than 170 national and international contemporary artists developing interactive projects, large-scale installations, online multimedia activities, workshops and books for children and families, by working closely with Gallery staff. It is especially rewarding to see the immense national and international growth in other museums who are now working with contemporary artists to develop interactive projects. Generations of Gallery staff have grown with the Children’s Art Centre and have contributed greatly to its evolution. Indeed, many younger staff members were visitors as children, and had their first taste of art via the exhibitions and projects developed here.

Surrealism for Kids, 2011 was launched to coincide with ‘Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams’, an exhibition of key surrealist works from the Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris. Based on a selection of the word and image games drawn upon by the surrealist artists, the publication explores the ideas and approaches behind Surrealism in a series of activities.

The physical presence of the Children’s Art Centre exhibition spaces, which opened with the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in 2006, has greatly assisted the Gallery in presenting an ongoing program of exhibitions and projects. However, these also appear in exhibition spaces across the two sites: many visitors will recall In-flight: Project Another Country 2009, a plane-making project by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan; or children’s programming during exhibitions such as ‘Andy Warhol’ (2007–08) and ‘Surrealism: The Poetry of Dreams’ (2011). The Children’s Art Centre may have fully materialised through its exhibition spaces at GOMA, but its concept was also a driving force behind the establishment of a second site for the Queensland Art Gallery many years prior. Each of today’s Children’s Art Centre projects expands on philosophies that were developed and refined by earlier approaches to such programming — about the importance of learning through active participation, the role of contemporary artists’ ideas, and children’s roles in the future of the museum itself.

My Art Journal publication
Drawing Life for Kids: My Art Journal, 2011 was developed for the Gallery’s younger audiences, to coincide with the exhibition ‘Matisse: Drawing Life’. Inspired by artist Henri Matisse’s love of drawing – a daily activity for the artist – the publication contains over 100 pages of drawing activities and facts about key artists who used drawing as a means of visual communication.

Looking back, the Gallery’s early children’s exhibitions, such as ‘Play’ (2001) and ‘Colour’ (2003), deliberately shifted towards the audience-focused exhibition model that today seems natural to both visitors and arts professionals. Presenting thematic exhibitions was part of a broader international shift in museum curating at the time, interested in breaking down old art historical chronologies by providing new, unexpected juxtapositions and interpretations, bringing sensory material into the exhibition space and creating interactive components. Alongside these exhibitions, Kids’ APT(1) broke new ground by acknowledging children as a key audience for an international contemporary art event. In addition to major projects for children by artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang, the Gallery has also worked with Yayoi Kusama, who developed The obliteration room for APT4 in 2002. This major installation is now one of the Collection’s key works, one that has been re-exhibited several times and appeals to visitors of all ages. In 2012–13, more than 143 000 children experienced Kids’ APT7 via interactive artist projects and the APT7 exhibition. The shared vision of major supporters, such as the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, has been central in making artist projects and collaborations possible, and enables increasingly ambitious innovations in programming.

Portrait of Spain for Kids, 2012 introduces some of the most significant artists represented by the Prado’s collection through ten selected art works with information about the artists, fun facts about Spanish history and culture, as well as instructions for at-home activities such as Spanish recipes.

The Children’s Art Centre is committed to showcasing the work of contemporary Australian artists. Since 2009, an annual presentation of large-scale solo exhibitions for children has showcased specially commissioned installations by artists such as Callum Morton, Anne Wallace and Gordon Hookey. We are also proud to have developed an annual touring program in collaboration with the Gallery’s Regional Services staff. These initiatives enable children and families from regional and remote Queensland greater access to their state gallery. In 2010, the Children’s Art Centre began providing ‘take-home’ experiences of its exhibitions and projects by initiating a dedicated publishing program. Publishing has become a key part of the Children’s Art Centre, designed to enrich young visitors’ experiences and ensure their ongoing engagement with contemporary art, artists and ideas. With six publications to date, several of which have won national and international publishing, design and educational awards, this aspect of the Children’s Art Centre is firmly embedded in the Gallery’s programming. It’s another way of fostering connection between artists and audiences.

Hahan and Friends, 2012 was launched to coincide with the ‘7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’. Emerging Indonesian artist Hahan (Uji Handoko Eko Saputro) develop this richly illustrated book that explores the artist’s life and art works and provides art-making activities for children to complete.

Coming up this summer, the Children’s Art Centre will present a major project in collaboration with contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang, to be featured alongside the exhibition ‘Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth’ at GOMA. Cai’s exhibition has an increased poignancy for the Children’s Art Centre, with the artist being among the first to collaborate with the Gallery in developing an interactive project for children.(2) Visitors to this major exhibition will be delighted to see for the first time, or perhaps re-experience, Cai’s unique visions of the world through new installations, as well as activities developed in collaboration with the Children’s Art Centre.

In its curatorial and display approaches, and through initiatives such as children’s publishing, the Children’s Art Centre is interested in the ways in which contemporary art and artists’ practices can be enhanced through the creative process of developing their ideas for children. This process of development and discussion, and the activation of the works by children both through research trials and during the exhibitions, makes the Children’s Art Centre and its work exciting for everyone involved.

1 Kids’ APT was first launched in 1999 as part of the third Asia Pacific Triennial.
2 Cai Guo-Qiang’s project featured in the Gallery’s inaugural Kids’ APT program in 1999.

To coincide with the ‘Kangaroo Crew’ exhibition, the Gallery published The Sacred Hill, 2013. The story book features Gordon Hookey’s own narrative and 25 paintings, introducing young readers to four kangaroos who once lived together on the sacred hill. When their home is threatened by the arrival of the myna birds, the kangaroos are forced to leave and must work together to return home. The Sacred Hill follows the kangaroos on their journey, showing that courage and friendship can go a long way.