Inspired by the great experience we had at the Cai Guo exhibit at the Guggenheim a few months back, my wife and I did not think twice about bringing the boys when we were invited to a tour of the American Folk Art Museum.
It could have been the sophomore jinx. The Folk Art Museum was the second museum we have taken the boys to. It could have been the day. We were late and missed the start of the tour. It could have been the situation. When we went to the Cai Guo exhibit, it was the only thing we were doing that day. Our trip to the Folk Art Museum came at the end of one series of errands and activities and the start of another. Or it could have been the exhibit. The Cai Guo exhibit was three dimensional and interactive. The Darger exhibit was much more traditional; pictures on walls and Don’t Touch signs. Cai Guo had a yak skin raft on an artificial river. That’s hard to beat!
I did not even consider taking the boys to the exhibit but was convinced after reading Trey Ellis post about it. However, the Cai Guo exhibit was a misleading art museum experience in that it offered more than just a single way of experiencing the sense of sight. It mixed it up by offering video content and sculpture installations that the viewer walked through, changing the perspectives and frames of mind the viewer adopted to understand the various pieces in the exhibit. From what I’ve experienced this normally doesn’t happen outside of children’s museums.
Another thing that normally doesn’t happen outside of children’s museum is the placement of 2-D pieces at eye level for children. Most of the 2-D elements of the Cai Guo exhibit were physically accessible by both adults and children. While they may not have been hung at eye level for children, I don’t remember having to carry my eldest as often as I did through the Darger exhibit.
I enjoyed both exhibits. Cai Guo because of the installations and interactive expects. Darger because I was reminded of William S. Burroughs and Kathy Acker. Both like Darger held high regard for what I interpret as “childhood innocence” and the creation of a mythic “child rebellion.” Burroughs envisioned his apocalyptic world filled with boy-avengers and Ackers’ Janey speaks childlike about sexual and violent extremes.
Which brings me to the topic of appropriateness. I don’t know that the themes of the Darger exhibit are appropriate for children which is ironic because the writings and drawings are rooted in childhood. It is even more ironic because all children hit a period in their cognitive and emotional development where their willingness to envelop the world gentle hugs is cast into doubt or lost entirely. Perhaps the juxtaposition of child mind in adult living is what makes the work of Darger, Burroughs, and Acker so engaging to me.
My wife and I will not be discouraged, however. We are sticking by our plans to take the boys to the Murakami exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. We feel it is important to expose the boys to a “museum situation.” A situation that requires the individual to utilize discipline and self-control, interacting with the exhibits only through the single sense of sight.