As a relatively new mom, I'll admit that the things I don't know about raising a kid could probably fill all of that empty real estate in Victory Park and then circle round for last call at Ghostbar. For example, while at a 4-year-old's birthday party a few weeks ago, I learned from the other moms that I've likely ruined my child's chances for any sort of intellectual accomplishment because I don't have her on any lists for preschool admission. The discussion went a little like this: Moms: So, which lists do you have her on? Me: What lists? Moms: (silent and unforgiving judgment)
After researching area schools and reviewing my options (including moving into someone's storage shed in Highland Park, starving so that we can send her to private school, moving to China, or joining the Hare Krishnas), I decided I should probably give my nine-month-old as many advantages right now as humanly possible. As such, I've embarked on an odyssey of cultural discovery within our fair city in hopes that exposing her to as much art, music and intellectually stimulating activity will help bolster whatever education we can provide for her when it's time to send her off to school. I know she's too young to discern a Renaissance sculpture from Ren Faire airbrushing, but I do know that her attention is captured, even momentarily, by vivid colors, conspicuous lines and lush musical notes.
The other advantage to this endeavor is that it gets us out of the house, and any parent of young children (twins notwithstanding) can attest to the power of a little field trip to break up the nap-play-eat-scream cycle. And so, finding myself jonesing for an experience that didn't involve scraping cereal puffs off the carpet, I loaded Baby into the car last Saturday and headed to the Nasher Sculpture Center.
My intention was to take Baby to the Half the air in a given space installation, which is essentially a room filled floor to ceiling with orange balloons. I realized upon arrival that taking her into the exhibit was impractical and likely dangerous owing to the fact that it was full of future roller derby queens navigating through the space elbows-first.
The sweet Nasher staffer whose job it is to corral the balloons that escape every time someone left the installation told me that it was limited to people over the age of three, and on a busy day it was probably not ideal to take in anyone under the age of five. As a fan of Martin Creed's work, I was disappointed. As someone who didn't want to spend the afternoon in the ER at Baylor, I moved on.
Luckily, Creed has left a couple of additional touches to complement his exhibit that are appealing to kids of any age. The elevator plays accordion scales (ascending for up, descending for down) that elicited a giggle from Baby, and following that theme, the stairs descending to the lower level gallery have been wired for sound. Legions of kids were (unknowingly) enthusiastically evoking Fred Astaire as they skipped down the stairs, each of which plays a piano tone.
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Upstairs, there was plenty to catch Baby's eye with Statuesque, a collection of 10 large sculptures scattered throughout the 1.4 acre Sculpture Garden. The color-saturated pieces by Aaron Curry befuddled my iPhone camera and absolutely captivated the younger set with their abstract lines and mind-blowing hues. Thomas Houseago's giant, Gollum-like "Untitled (Red Man)" captured the imagination of kiddos wandering by, as did his "Untitled (Lumpy Figure)," which I heard being compared to Marvel Comics supervillain Plantman by a 10-year-old who had clearly just come from Free Comic Book Day festivities.
The outdoor area is perfect for those of us with kids still in strollers, as long as you keep them off the grass, but if you've got toddlers who don't quite have the "look but don't touch" concept down, navigation might be a bit of a challenge.
Ultimately, the Nasher proved to be a successful excursion, which is admittedly relative: There's a thin line between "success" and "vow to never again take Baby into civilization." But with a baseline good temperament in place, it's the perfect venue to add to your little one's cultural tabula rasa.
Sightings: Martin Creed runs through June 19 and Statuesque will be on view until August 21. The Nasher is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. with admission free for children under 12 (score!) and $10 per adult. For free admission for the whole family, stop in on the first Saturday of each month. Visit nashersculpturecenter.org for additional details.