In the interests of balance - well, I am theoretically a journalist as well as Louis' mum - I figured it wasn't fair to moan about the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum without eulogising about the amazing exhibition we went to this morning. (On the dinosaur front, I'm told that first thing on a weekend is the time to go, plus we managed to miss the moving dinosaur that was at the end of the very hot and sticky throng of people in one particularly crowded gallery.)
But back to today. After giving up on seeking out kid-focused museums, we figured we'd use yet another overcast, dull day we had all together (heatwave; what heatwave?) to check out Ernesto Neto at the Hayward Gallery. The exhibition is part of the South Bank's summer homage to all things Brazilian. Which thankfully stretches beyond the ubiquitous Haviana flip flop. Two things inspired us to go: my lovely and very talented artist friend Sonoko, who is keen to see it, and the much photographed open-air swimming pool that is part of his show and which would have provided respite from the heat, had the weather not been lousy.
If you don't know Ernesto Neto - and if so, join the club - he belongs to the tactile school of art. He doesn't so much make sculptures as redecorate entire galleries with wonderful interactive creations you can touch, sit on or even climb into. He has transformed the internal concrete mass of the Hayward Gallery into a sensuous living organism, with nylon membra strung from ceiling to floor to create tunnels and caves that suck you in before spitting you on the terrace where you can take a dip in an inflatable, crocheted pool. (Provided you're taller than 1.10m. And have brought your cossie and a towel, which we, inexplicably, hadn't.)
I want to say it was parental heaven. Just imagine: an art gallery where you won't run the risk of being thrown out just because your toddler/child has come within looking distance of an exhibit; an exhibition you're actually encouraged to interact with. But I'm wary of sounding exactly like the sort of nightmare the Independent's art critic feared would regard Neto's work as the ultimate bouncy castle for their "shrieking Toms or Daisys".
In my defence, I was so busy telling Louis not to touch the sides of the extremely tactile nylon tunnels that the gallery attendant told me not to worry so much! Needless to say, Louis had a blast. And thankfully the Hayward isn't a magnet for the fluorescent-yellow bibbed school crowd that make places like the Natural History Museum such a nightmare so we did too. In fact, I can't wait to go back. If I thought I'd be able to get value out of the members' bar at the Royal Festival Hall I'd pony up for South Bank membership, which would give me a summer's worth of floating in Neto's pool. If I didn't have a sub 1.10m Louis in tow, that is.