Anyone with a child old enough to clutch a crayon knows that people can be artistically represented in a variety of ways, ranging from random slashes on a piece of paper ("It's you, Mommy!") to keenly observed portraits ("Mom, this is how your hair sticks out in the morning!") Now the Museum of Modern Art is inviting kids to create all kinds of people, realistic or abstract, in its brand-new interactive installation MoMA Art Lab: People.
We were big fans of MoMA's similar hands-on Material Lab, which recently closed after a 19-month run. It helped make a wonderful but not very interactive museum a lot more fun for children who'd rather create art than look at it. So I was really excited to take my kids to check out MoMA Art Lab: People to see what kinds of funky folks they'd come up with.
Since I wanted to see how children of different ages and interests would react to MoMA Art Lab: People, I brought all three of my children along: My 13-year-old aspiring artist, my very left-brain nine-year-old and my newly minted kindergartener. My oldest headed immediately for the paper and colored pencils, my middle son to the computers, and my five-year-old daughter to the puppet theater! So there really are activities for every age in this exhibit.
The physical space itself is rather small. It's just a long, narrow room in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building accessible through the Sculpture Garden. On the day we visited, there were about a half-dozen families present, and most stuck around about an hour. I imagine that on busier days, the room may get crowded pretty quickly, with not enough materials or space to go around, so it's probably best to come on a weekday or early on a weekend. At least there's a ten-minute time limit on the computer stations if others are waiting.
The computers are loaded with Fresh Paint, a Microsoft Windows 8 app that looks and acts like real paint, so visitors can create self-portraits via touchscreen. Not only do you have myriad colors, pencils, brushes and stroke widths to choose from, you can also take a photo of yourself and then gleefully distort it. The app is very addictive and was a big hit with all three of my kids—good thing it's available commercially. They seemed to have as much fun erasing their electronic creations as making them in the first place.
Other activities are more analog. Kids can twist a wooden figurine into all sorts of uncomfortable positions before sketching it with colored pencils and paper. There's also a station where children can craft puppets out of construction paper and then mount an impromptu performance in the do-it-yourself shadow puppet theater. On the walls, there are various shapes that can be put together to form faces and bodies, or you can do the same with wooden blocks. There's even an "exquisite corpse" experience: Three different children each draw a different part of the body (with no peeking at what the others are doing), and then put them together to see what it looks like. My nine-year-old loved the magnetic wall, where a human face can be constructed using letters (he used the letter "I" to represent the eyes—get it?) and wavy lines.
My 13-year-old gravitated toward the shelves of art books on offer, so he explored 300 years of architectural and design history while his younger siblings got creative. In the end, I had to drag all three of them away, with my oldest son asking, "Why don't we just move in here?" I have a feeling we'll be going back a few times before it closes next year!
MoMA Art Lab: People is on view through August 31, 2013 in the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, 11 West 53 Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Free with admission: $25 for adults, free for children under 17.
Read about other hands-on art studios in our Museum Guide.