Do kids and art museums mix?

February 19, 2012 | By | Comments (13)

This weekend my husband and I brought our children to the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston. While I was excited about the opportunity to check out the museum, my husband was less than optimistic about how our visit was going to go.

Turns out, his skepticism was well founded.

Entering the gallery, which is showing an exhibit called “Figuring Color,” we were immediately approached by a staff member who, in the most insulting of tones, made the point to tell us that “it may seem confusing, but most of the items cannot be touched,” including the arm chair next to which we were standing.

Roy McKakin, Sitting Wingback Chair

Motioning to a red curtain of beads which divided the gallery, he told the kids they could touch that installation but couldn’t tug or hang on it.

Moments later, another staff member nearly tackled our daughter as she attempted to get a closer look at an abstract painting. And still later, a third docent looked on nervously as the kids hovered near a piece which, by it’s design, requires you get close enough to look at the top to see the illusion created inside.

When we reached an art piece made entirely of candy strewn across the floor, I was prepared for another scolding, only to be told the kids could have a couple of pieces of candy.

Talk about mixed message.

For those who know me, or listen to our podcast, you know that I will be the first to say when my children are causing problems. But during the visit, the kids were great. They didn’t touch anything. They stayed by our sides and walked quietly around the exhibits. They asked questions and seemed fascinated by some of the displays – especially the works by Josiah McElheny which created optical illusions through the use of mirrors.

But after 30 minutes, I could not take the nervous looks and half-steps in our directions any more. So rather than staying any longer, or spending any money in the gift shop or the cafe, we grabbed our coats and headed to the Children’s Museum.

Hours later, I was still fuming, while my husband continued to be unsurprised (and kudos to him for restraining from some well deserved “I told you so’s). As he said, it was “that” kind of place and that children were clearly not welcome.

So, here’s my question – before we take our kids to the Museum of Fine Arts or other similar establishment, can art museums and children mix?