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Saturday 7th of May 2016

By ELLA LEVITT

Kids dig contemporary art. This was abundantly clear when I visited this year’s Frieze Art Fair on Randall’s Island with my toddler, Naomi.

We loved it: for me, it’s one of the most elegant, sophisticated, brightest venues for viewing contemporary art. I was thrilled that Naomi connected with many of the works on her own level.

If you can, take the ferry. Leaving Manhattan by boat sets the tone for an exotic adventure — and the views of the city and the Islands are fascinating for both kids and adults. Disembarking, we were beaconed by a giant helium-filled baby by Alex da Corte. It hovered above the entrance, part of Frieze Projects, curated by Cecilia Alemani. We loved to be welcomed by a baby.

Inside, the space seems to extend endlessly, but it’s actually not overwhelming to navigate compared to other art fairs since it contains only three rows of galleries. You can’t get lost, and it’s exciting for kids to feel like there is a lot to see and discover. Definitely ditch your stroller and let your child be the guilde. 

Naomi’s favorite art falls into two categories: first, work that is bright, big, soft or shiny that draws her in right away and work that grabs her attention with surface value and depth as well.

As an art professional sans bébé, I generally approach a gallery and ask them to “tell me a little about the work” if I’m curious. It’s fascinating to ask the same question on behalf of a child who is barely speaking. I won’t mention the name of an artist who made a large sculptural installation that looked like a mob of red spotted snakes coming out of the ground. It was a rupture from the rest and made my baby squeal with delight. When I asked the gallerist to describe the work in two sentences, however, she could mutter only a few words.

Naomi was absolutely mesmerized by a two channel video with more depth in Rampa Gallery’s booth by an artist named Ergin ÇavuşoğluOne screen showed a decomposing ship, while the parallel showed life on the surface — the poetry of looking down at a shipwreck and up at the business of today, the hidden and revealed realities at sea.

Beyond the commercial galleries, Frieze’s non-profit offerings include a well respected curriculum of talks and Frieze projects. While the talks are not for children, this year’s Frieze Projects are at the same time cerebral and extremely appealing to the littlest critics. Heather Phillipson peppered the fair with her delightful installation, 100% Other Fibres, exploring the “nervous system of the fair” via dismembered canines barking and wagging, running through screens, tangled up in wires, and even a bit of faux doggie poop.

The art might be smart, but at the end of the day, some kids just really love dogs.

Frieze New York is at Randall’s Island through Sunday, May 8.

Ella Levitt is a Culture Craver, art theorist, and mother living in Brooklyn. 

The photograph at the top is by the author. It shows Culture Craver Kids exploring 100% Other Fibres by Heather Phillipson.