a Child's Level

The captivated group of young art connoisseurs studies the massive Jackson Pollock painting intently. Though seemingly a random splattering of earth tones, they examine the artist’s technique to discover that intentional layers and lines form distinct patterns in the abstract creation. The group of savvy pre-schoolers continues on their tour — they compare the Pollock to a bold, geometric comic-strip canvas by Roy Lichtenstein. For many of these children, this outing to the Queens location of the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA) “Tours for Fours” program is their first trip to an art museum. The Rathuses of Great Neck, are hoping to introduce their twin girls to the wonder of contemporary art. “I’d like them to obtain a positive exposure to an art museum so that we can have a place to enjoy together as a family,” says Jill Rathus. Every Saturday, MoMA hosts a series of family programs aimed at allowing children and adults to share quality time together in a museum setting without a feeling of intimidation. “Adults are sometimes nervous when talking about modern or contemporary art. We hope to make families comfortable in a museum setting and invite everyone to have a conversation about art,” says Elizabeth Margulies, MoMA’s family programs coordinator. The programs examine a small number of art works, rather than offering a tour of the entire museum. “We’ve found that looking deeply into a few select pieces creates a more memorable experience,” Margulies says. “There’s nothing magical about what we do. We use an inquiry-based technique, with open-ended questions that promote discussion at a child’s own level.” The 45-minute “Tours for Fours” session begins with a rundown of the rules. While the no-touching rule is strictly enforced, the children are surprised that talking is not only allowed, but encouraged. Each child is handed a card with a different line: There are squiggles, dots and zigzags. Their mission is to find lines that match their cards within a given work of art. The themes are changed weekly; past subjects have included colors, images and even poetry. These clever devices serve as a launching point for discussion, allowing the child to focus on the painting in an attempt to stimulate critical and analytical thinking. "Tours for Fours" is held Saturdays, 10-10:45am, for children ages 4 and their adult companions. Admission is $5 per family, $3 for members; preregistration is required. “A child is willing to look deeply into the painting because they can recognize one element,” says Lynn Seeney, a museum educator. “It helps them deal with the abstraction of modern art.” While “Tours for Fours” is designed specifically for 4-year-olds, other programs use similar strategies for older children. “A Closer Look for Kids” is an hour-long drop-in educational tour for children ages 5-10. December’s theme is “Act It Out!", in which children will reflect on the physical poses and emotional makeup of the art works. "A Closer Look for Kids" is held Saturdays, 10-11am, for children ages 5-10 and their adult companions. Admission is $5 per family, $3 for members; no preregistration is required.

“Art Mix” is a similar program designed for children ages 11-14 and their adult companions. The program is held Saturdays, 10-11am. Admission: $5 per family, $3 for members. Preregistration is required. This month marks the preview of a full-day program, “A Contemporary Sunday”, created for art lovers of all ages. While the morning will highlight family programs including films, contemporary card making and tours, the afternoon will focus on adult programs. Upcoming events include an insightful range of gallery talks reflecting the themes presented by two special exhibitions: "Kiki Smith: Prints, Books and Things", a striking look into provocative contemporary art, on exhibit from December 5, 2003 to March 8, 2004; and "Here is Elsewhere", the latest installment of MoMA’s Artist’s Choice series, curated by Mona Hatoum, on display through February 2, 2004. Hatoum, the renowned conceptual artist, has selected key works in various media to be explored and discussed.

MoMA also hosts “Conversations with Contemporary Artists: The Family Addition”. Preregistration is required for this unique program which enables children and adults to meet with eminent artists to discuss their work. A slide show is followed by a group discussion on materials, art-making techniques and artistic inspiration. A special reception follows each session. Admission is $20 per family and $15 for members; the discussions take place at the Arts Consortium Auditorium, 1 East 53rd Street. Another family event scheduled at the Arts Consortium is the “Family Films” series. Classic live-action and animated films are concluded with stimulating, educational discussions. Suggestions for follow-up activities in the Museum’s galleries are explored. Admission is free and seating is limited, so preregistration is a good idea. For a complete listing of upcoming artists and dates, log on to If you can’t make it to the gallery, let the gallery come to you with MoMA’s Art Safari Online, an educational website that teaches families how to look at and talk about art. Activities encourage children to write stories about the work they’ve viewed and create their own projects. Go to “The more exposure you have to art at an early age and the more you view various artwork at different levels, the more you’ll learn,” says Seeney, as she encourages patrons of all ages to take advantage of MoMA’s wide range of rich educational programs.

Info: Where: The Museum of Modern Art, 33rd Street at Queens Boulevard, LIC When: 10-5pm, Thursday-Monday; 10am-7:45pm, Friday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday How much: $12 adults; $8.50 full-time students with ID and seniors; children under 12 are free if accompanied by adult. Friday, 4-7:45pm, pay-what-you-wish For more info: (212) 708-9400;