If you ask me I'm not going to go to an art gallery again unless accompanied by my two young daughters. This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when we did a fly-by at the Matthew Barney exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Edie (9) and Georgie (7) were – how can I say? – more than a little underwhelmed by the work on show. I've been a fan of Barney's for about 15 years, and once even flew to Paris to see one of the Cremaster series, and I have to agree with my girls: I wasn't exactly blown away by this latest work either.
Frankly, because the girls speak their minds – oblivious to the righteous indignation of a Januszczak or a Sewell – their critical observations (and boy can they be critical) are overpoweringly persuasive, as most children's can be. Admittedly I was a little disappointed by their impression of the Rothko room in Tate Modern – "It's a bit boring" – but totally concurred with their opinion that the escalators are often the best thing in the entire museum.
They haven't read The Painted Word – Tom Wolfe's savage dissertation on the art world is as funny now as it was 35 years ago – and they are unencumbered by notions of irony, context or indeed any bankrupt rationale for conceptual art. But though they know nothing about art, they sure know what they like. Monet ("lots of detail"), Van Gogh ("uses lots of nice shades of yellow"), Henry Moore ("squiggly statues") and, predictably, Jackson Pollock ("I like all the colours, even the dark ones. And I like messy pictures. I could do one of those"). But Dali? No, "Too spooky" apparently. While Victorian portraiture is, er, "boring and not very catchy".
Their most withering appraisal is a universal refrain, usually uttered approximately ten seconds after entering a gallery (and not just by children either): "It's just not very interesting."
Years ago, I saw an exhibition by Jean Tinguely at the Pompidou Centre, and a whole floor was given over to his gargantuan Heath Robinson-type machines, things that might have been built by Caractacus Potts. I'm looking forward to taking my children to see a Tinguely show almost as much as I'm looking forward to seeing what they make of the latest work from the Chapman Brothers. Although if Jake and Dinos prove to be a hit, I fear adolescence is going to be a tricky time for all of us.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'Reuse content