Recently the Walker education department invited a group of parents to visit the Richard Prince exhibition, in hopes of getting some ideas from parents about how we make decisions about what exhibitions are appropriate for our kids.
One of the things we talked about was whether a sign suggesting parents preview the exhibition before bringing their children is helpful. Most of the parents in the group strongly supported the idea – it seems only fair, and really helpful, to parents to let them know that the gallery might include some art that may not be appropriate for kids.
I have to admit I’m not sure what I think about this. I visited the contemporary art museum in Chicago over the weekend. They had a warning sign outside one exhibition, and I confess I went through the gallery looking for the naked people or violence or whatever had inspired the sign. I did see a couple of blurry breasts, but that was about it. And then I realized that was not such a great way to experience an exhibition.
On the other hand, I know plenty of people who think contemporary artists – and contemporary art venues – are out to trick or embarrass or horrify their audiences, and who would really appreciate knowing in advance in a particular exhibition might not be great for kids.
Does a warning sign help a parent feel that the museum is on their side? Or do warning signs reinforce the idea that the contemporary museum is packed full of offensive art? Where are warning signs appropriate? If we want the Walker to warn us, do we also expect to see signs in galleries of Greek and Roman vases, or of 19th century paintings? Any thoughts?