Interactive classes a hit with children at Art Basel

Interactive fun puts fresh spin on art for kids

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 11:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 11:14am

Damien Hirst seems an unlikely model for young children, but at this year's Art Basel Hong Kong, the maverick artist set the tone for a new generation of budding creatives.

The British conceptual artist is known for provocative works such as his shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde and a diamond-encrusted skull. At the art fair, however, it was his unapologetically child-like Spin painting - a kaleidoscope of vivid colours splashed spontaneously onto an enormous circular canvas - that served as inspiration for the youngest visitors.

UBS, the fair's lead partner, had the excellent idea of offering four days of free arts programmes aimed at young artists aged three and above.

Its Junior Art Hub programme, which consisted of 45-minute art classes that started on the hour every day for the duration of the fair, was near the first floor entrance of the fair, making it convenient for parents to access en route to the display inside.

Activities included the Hirst-inspired bicycle-powered spin painting for children old enough to use the equipment, and painting and printmaking workshops inspired by the work of Indonesian artist Christine Ay Tjoe. Tjoe's Rounded Cars painting with bubble wrap, fabrics and corrugated card coated in paint proved the perfect inspiration with its medley of interesting colours, shapes and textures. It was finished with stamps and toys that made it a highly tactile and abstract work.

Both artists feature in the UBS Art Collection, which comprises around 35,000 works from the 1960s to the present.

Other hands-on art included a mixed-media collage for children to explore their own notion of "Utopia", which was achieved by cutting out visuals of Hong Kong city scenes and pasting them onto a collage. Elsewhere, children contributed to community art by creating an interactive Hong Kong skyline by painting the scene with red and gold paint and sticking on lai see packets.

The programme offered a much-needed opportunity for young visitors to experience art in a very different way to being inside a gallery or fair environment. In other cities, such as London and New York, museums and art shows have already started to invest in education programmes and activities to increase family visits. Such efforts go a long way to helping children develop an appreciation of art and help dispel the notion that art lovers magically appear only once they are old enough to buy a painting.

Hong Kong has been especially slow to adapt to families on the cultural front, even though it is clear that creative activities are an excellent way to help nurture creativity. The meagre attention paid to young visitors to the science and history museums, where excellent exhibitions are let down by a lack of interactive information and well-written materials for children, are a case in point. The strength of UBS' programme is that it focused on creative fun with plenty of well-trained and enthusiastic staff on hand to assist. Happily, UBS has plans to repeat, and possibly extend, the programme next year.

My 11-year-old daughter especially enjoyed the spin painting activity where she could create something and take it away. Her three spin masterpieces have been framed and now serve as a colourful reminder of the fair.

We left with a determination to visit even more galleries during the rest of the year.