What?: Everyone loves the Tate Modern, but six long months into Bab’s awkward crawling phase I wanted to know how well this South Bank stalwart would cater to a stubborn 15-month-old and her rather jaded mother who is fast running out of interesting, slither-friendly emancipation sites. Galleries can be great for crawlers, but they can also be pretty shit. Space is obviously a prerequisite, but they also need to have interesting stuff to poke at, have all the stuff they’re not supposed to poke at out of reach, and not be so filthy that your child resembles a Dickensian chimney sweep come home time.
The Tate Modern is definitely not short on space, with its futuristic new Blavatnik Building almost doubling the gallery’s already vast exhibition and display area, though much of that space is unsuitable for crawlers due to the placement of many of the sculptural artworks on the gallery floor behind foot-high cordons that might as well be labelled ‘baby limbo contest this way’.
I didn’t want to risk Bab trying to mount and consume Magdalena Abakanowicz’s floor-based Embryology sculpture on the fourth floor, which I knew she would be drawn to since it resembles a huge mound of giant potatoey turds, so decided to keep her imprisoned in the buggy for most of our visit, only freeing her once we’d reached the relative safety of the Turbine Hall, which is currently empty save for Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials, an audio sculpture consisting of a series of speakers pumping out intense, angry sound bites that even in this colossal space had quite a profoundly claustrophobic effect – which of course is exactly what you want when hanging out with infants.
Luckily Bab seemed unphased by the shouty snippets and proceeded to spend the next hour scaling and descending the wide, graduated steps that run along the far side of the Turbine Hall and getting absolutely caked in crap in the process, though to be honest I’d rather a filthy, happy child than a clean, miserable one. Her Mini Rodini dress might be completely ruined and the sooty-footed imp I took home was not the nice pink one I brought out with me, but she did have a really lovely time and this space would be absolutely brilliant for slightly older ones who have progressed to toddling and need to let off some steam.
While there wasn’t much in the way of early-years amusements, kids of all ages will enjoy Olafur Eliasson’s Yellow versus Purple, a light-based sculpture in level two’s Start Display that they can install themselves in front of, gawping at their shadowy likenesses and making shadow animals using their hands.
Where?: Little ones will love following the orange lampposts that mark the route between the Tate and its nearest station, Southwark (Jubilee), just an eight-minute walk away. Blackfriars (mainline, Thameslink, Circle, District), Waterloo (Bakerloo, Northern, Jubilee, mainline, Waterloo & City), City Thameslink, St Paul’s (Central) and London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee, mainline) stations are also all within a 15-minute walk of the gallery.
Best Bits: The shops’ children’s sections are exceptional, stocking a large, well-chosen selection of contemporary picture books, toys and accessories. We particularly enjoyed the Miffy area in the larger shop, which offers an adorable range of crocheted Miffy softies and a selection of books from Dick Bruna’s classic preschooler series about the cute white bunny.
Worst Bits: I was a bit bummed, given the size of the space, that there is literally nothing specifically aimed at children. While apparently there used to be an under-fives zone on the fifth floor and an interactive sculpture called Liminal on the fourth, both were long gone by the time of our visit in June 2017. The lifts are a nightmare since, despite the signs urging visitors to give priority to wheelchair and pushchair users, literally no one takes the stairs. There is no floor countdown thing so you have absolutely no idea where any of the lifts are at any time, and once one does arrive the doors only stay open for approximately half a second and are closed by the time you reach them so you end up having to just pick a lift to stand in front of and pray that it turns up eventually.
Facilities: Baby changing, step-free access, high chairs in the cafe.
Would We Come Back?: This is another one for the ‘come back when she’s walking’ list.
Bab roams the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, Bankside