There are some people who wouldn’t be seen dead in a gallery with a kid but I’ve always found art exhibitions a great way to pass an afternoon with the baby.
Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely easier to go to a gallery without a baby but given this is not an option for most new mothers, London’s museums and galleries provide an instant, life affirming fix of culture.
It’s good for the mind and for the soul to stand in front of a beautiful painting or sculpture. A chance to reclaim a few fragments of one’s former self without, crucially, getting in to gym kit.
I’m dubious that my gallery visits are of any cultural benefit to the baby, mind you. My baby stares at the roof of his pram, or his hands rather than the paintings but it can’t be a bad thing to get him used to quiet, public spaces.
You don’t have to make a big deal of it – I usually go on my own. There’s something intimate and bonding about pushing your little person around all these amazing works of art.
When they’re really tiny, I find the warmth and buzz of the gallery sends them straight to sleep, giving me time to absorb something that is refreshingly unrelated to babies.
Even now my baby is older (eight months) and refuses to sleep in the buggy, the high ceilings and echoing acoustics of a gallery send him into a happy, foot-chewing trance for at least an hour, which is about all I can cope with before my sleep deprived eyes start seeing double.
You might wonder how the hell you’ll manoeuvre through a museum or gallery with a buggy but they’re actually a great thing to have with you; the pram serves as a kind of battering ram, ensuring you always have space around you (no one likes to get to close to the baby) plus you have somewhere to dump your coat, bag, leaflets etc.
I take the baby carrier with me too, as giving the baby a change of scene when he’s getting fractious buys me more time. And I tend to feed the baby to bursting point in a cafe before the exhibition so he won’t require any sustenance while we’re inside.
If you go to the Royal Academy or National Portrait Gallery there are good cafes with high chairs and canteen-stye food that is ready immediately (crucial when you’re on borrowed time like this). At the Royal Academy there are even men’s baby changing facilities, perfect if you’re going with the dad.
Here are a few things I’d recommend seeing in central London this autumn.
National Portrait Gallery
Until 5 February 2017
You must see this. I went yesterday and am already planning to go back again next week as there’s too much amazingness to absorb in one visit.
The portraits chart Picasso’s life; the women he loved, the poets, writers and art dealers in his circle, his political beliefs and his love for his children.
A couple of particularly beautiful mother and child portraits might appeal to your current mental state. Go go go.
Until 2 January 2017
I was worried the Ikea-isation of artists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock might have ruined this exhibition for me but it wasn’t the case at all. There is nothing like standing less than a metre away from a Pollock, with all its swirling, dripping, rhythms – every spot and splurge the perfect accident.
It’s the same for Rothko. Up close his blurring rectangles are mesmerising – it’s no wonder yoga teachers hang his prints in their studios.
You don’t have to bother about what things mean or stand for too much – many of them are called ‘Untitled’. You can just enjoy them for how they make you feel.
Just try not to think too much about the fact that most of the artist involved killed themselves in the end.
Until 30 October 2016
So I haven’t actually been to this one yet but my aunt, an art historian, raved about it so much that I’ve booked in for later this week. O’Keeffe isn’t seen much in the UK as there are none of her works in public collections.
This exhibition brings together more than 100 of her remarkable paintings of magnified flowers, animal skulls and New Mexico landscapes, including Jimson Weed/ White Flower No.1, which is the most expensive painting by a female artist ever sold at auction. Hurry as it’s only on until the end of the month.
Left: Portrait of Jacqueline in a Black Scarf by Pablo Picasso, 1954. Private Collection © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016 © Photo: Claude Germain
Right: Woman in a Hat (Olga) by Pablo Picasso, 1935. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Droits reserves