February 13, 2009

Monsters in Museums

Last week the Guardian newspaper reported on the launch of a manifesto from a new charity called "Kids in Museums" to make museums more family-friendly. The detail of the 20-point plan are by definition of no interest. This nonsense was apparently triggered by the experience of Dea Birkett, surprise surprise, a writer for the Guardian, who was asked to leave the Royal Academy five years ago after her two-year-old son pointed to an Aztec statue with snakes for hair and a beak for a nose and shouted"monster!". It is claimed that the family were "thrown out" for the noise. So this Birkett woman began a campaign that grew into an independent charity.

On reading this tale, obviously my first thought was: what is the point of taking a two-year-old to an exhibition of Aztec art? Surely the monster in the room is the mother. I'd be willing to wager that 2 year olds are not one of the target audiences for the Royal Academy (or many other galleries either - or for that matter interchangeably with many other non-arts activities), and it's also a pretty safe bet that the authentic visitors in the gallery at the time were having a greatly diminished experience with the screaming kid; but there is something else that doesn't ring true in this woman's "children-are-our-future" myth-making. The Aztec snake-haired, beaked monster is the elephant in the room. I tried to think what this could be. This triggered a momentary digression to my personal favourite the Olmec Were-jaguar, just because it's always seemed to me if you are going to fall victim to one of the undead composite anthropomorphs (were-creatures), how cool would you sound being a were-jaguar rather than a were-wolf? Anyway, the statue is not Olmec and were-jaguars don't have snake hair. So what was it? The next obvious Coatlicue, but she is all snakes rather than just hair. I thought of a few others I could remember but none fit the description. The internet is no help - couldn't find a snake-haired Aztec figure with a beak, which confirms my suspicious that there is a hole in the story. If we give her the benefit of the doubt that the figure exists as described; what sort of middle-class mother takes her 2yr old for a cultural educational experience and allows such a sloppy response to go unchallenged? Shouldn't she have said, "no, darling, it's not a monster, it's Huitzilopochtli"? In context of National obsession with child development and educational achievement, surely, rather than expelling this awful woman from the gallery, the staff should have called social services to save the child from the intellectual neglect.
Anyway, off to Paris (France).

No comments: