In association with National Museum Cardiff
Can children understand abstract art? National Museum Cardiff certainly thinks so. Its new exhibition on the works of Gillian Ayres actively encourages children to visit, with art-themed toys and books placed around the galleries, bright yellow information signs especially for children, and a colourful activity pack to get youngsters thinking about the works they are viewing.
We headed along on Sunday afternoon, as part of our role as blogger ambassadors for the National Museum Cardiff – and my children were instantly intrigued by the brightly coloured huge works of art on display.
Understandably, they had no idea who Gillian Ayres is – but the helpful guidebook (suggested donation £3) and the information on the gallery walls told us about her life as one of the most important and internationally renowned abstract artists. This is the largest exhibition of her works ever seen in the UK, with some of the paintings on loan from major public collections and other’s from the artist’s own private collection.
The focus is on Gillian’s connection with Wales, and runs in reverse chronology, with her newer works first and her earlier ones coming later on. Gillian was born in London in 1930 but, from 1951 onwards, spent a lot of time visiting Wales where she became obsessed with climbing mountains including Cader Idris and Snowdon. She lived here for much of the 1980s, in a house called The Old Rectory on the Llyn Peninsula. Although her paintings are not visual depictions of the landscape, you can certainly see their influence in the deep colours and swirling textures of her early works.
The more contemporary pieces are much bolder and brighter in colour, and with plenty of contrast in the textures she uses. Obviously you’re not allowed to touch the paintings… but I really wanted to reach out and see how they felt, because the textures were so visible.
The colours really stand out against the white walls and light wooden floors of the gallery. Some of the works are huge and my children wondered how she would have managed to paint without getting herself all messy! The guidebook tells us she used “two large bedrooms in the rectory as her studio meaning that the paintings would have to be carefully manoeuvred down the staircase to get them out for exhibitions”.
The free family guide gave my children a great focus while walking around the galleries, as they ticked off the different colours, shapes and patterns they had spotted in the paintings. As well as the toys and books dotted around the galleries, and the brightly coloured bean bags on the floor, the second floor of the exhibition is home to a creative space where children and adults can read books about art, as well as creating their own. Toddler Boy I, 3, loved the two-tone coloured superhero-style capes hanging on the wall, while Little Miss E, 7, and Little Man O, 5½, spent quite a bit of time listening to Gillian’s story on the computer screens.
While Cardiff Daddy has an A-level in art, I must admit my knowledge of art is limited. I sometimes worry about not understanding what is going on or misinterpreting it wrongly. I didn’t feel like that with this exhibition, mostly because I was viewing it through my children’s eyes and they don’t care about what a painting does or doesn’t mean, they just see it for what it is in their eyes.
Once you’ve visited the Gillian Ayres exhibition, there’s plenty more to see. Some of our current favourites include Wriggle: The Wonderful World Of Worms, a fantastic hands-on exploration of the many varied varieties of worms which runs until June 2018 (read our review here), and the dinosaur replicas and skeletons in the Evolution of Wales gallery. (Read about a previous visit to the museum here and their weekly term-time toddler sessions here.)
The museum is free to visit but relies heavily on donations from visitors, so please give what you can.
The Gillian Ayres exhibition runs at National Museum Cardiff until 3rd September 2017. Entry is free. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Please note, photography is not permitted in the Gillian Ayres exhibition. We had kind permission for the purpose of this review post.