What?: The Saatchi Gallery has always struck me as a bit too cool for school or, in Bab’s case, pre-school, but I’d heard good things about their current exhibition and since I am literally never without her, save for when I’m having my biannual haircut, I decided now was as good a time as any to swing by and assess its child-friendliness.
From Selfie to Self-Expression chronicles the history of what we now call the ‘selfie’, from the self-portraiture of the Old Masters to the one million smart-phone selfies snapped every day in 2017, celebrating the oft-derided mode of self-expression as an art form in itself. Bab is incredibly narcissistic and loves taking selfies so I was hopeful that she might enjoy this, particularly since I’d read that many of the displays were interactive – although obviously I wasn’t exactly expecting full-on baby sensory.
In the first gallery, famous introspective works by influential artists including Rembrandt, Picasso, Van Gogh and Munch are displayed on digital screens and can be ‘liked’ by visitors using connected smart phones, with likes displayed Instagram-style next to the digital portrait. I didn’t bother trying to interest Bab in this activity as she was being dreadful and wouldn’t let me hold her, but at the very least most of the screens were hung high enough that I could let her writhe around the gallery floor without having to worry about her ripping them out of the wall – that was until one of the gallery assistants warned us against it since they hold functions in there and there’s “often broken glass on the floor”.
So far so un-child-friendly. Next we tried out Christopher Baker’s Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise, an installation consisting of 5,000 to-camera video clips extracted from various internet portals such as YouTube. Rather than immersing herself in the space as I’d hoped she might, Bab became totally overwhelmed by the audiovisual overflow, proceeded to have a full-on head-banging, floor-licking tantrum and had to be taken out for a walk to calm down, leaving me to judge the sprog suitability of the remainder of the exhibition by myself.
The verdict? While there were some immersive works that might be quite fun for an older toddler, for example Rafael Lozana-Hemmer’s interactive display The Year’s Midnight, which uses facial recognition to detect the viewer, replacing their eyes with puffs of white smoke, and the same artist’s collaboration with Krzysztof Wodiczko, 2015’s Zoom Pavilion, which uses computerised surveillance systems and projects images of the visiting public onto the walls, I wouldn’t put From Selfie to Self-Expression at the top of the under-fives must-do list. Still a bit too cool for kids, sadly.
Where & When?: From Selfie to Self-Expression has been extended until the 23rd of July and is open daily from 10am to 6pm. The Saatchi Gallery is located in the 19th-century Duke of York headquarters just off the King’s Road. Sloane Square (District, Circle) is a couple of minutes’ walk, South Kensington (Piccadilly, District, Circle) is about 15 and Victoria (Victoria, District, Circle) around 20.
Best Bits: The Saatchi boasts one of the best gallery shops in London, working with contemporary artists to produce exclusive gifts and limited-edition artworks. On offer is an eclectic selection of design-led jewellery, homeware, posters, books and accessories, and a small but inspiring assortment of kids’ products.
Worst Bits: There’s not a massive amount to do with little people. If they could make some kind of permanent Donald Judd/Richard Serra-esque play installation happen then would be great.
Facilities: Step-free access, baby-changing, family-friendly cafe.
Bab has a social media meltdown in the Hello World! installation, part of From Selfie to Self-Expression at the Saatchi Gallery