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PERSONAL ASSISTANT

Art, kids can play well together

It's hard enough getting adults to keep their hands off the valuables. Children need a bit more help, but it's not impossible.

July 12, 2007|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

AT least once a week, Shai Bernat-Kunin visits his grandparents, whose San Fernando Valley home is filled with contemporary art and glass sculptures. During his visit last Friday, the 2-year-old ate lunch in his highchair within a spoon's throw of a one-of-a-kind glass piece by Ivan Mares.

Unleashed on the ground, Shai could be like a bull in a china shop. But grandparents Sam and Nancy Kunin have taken precautions to ensure their art is carefully placed, secured and insured. They say they are more concerned about earthquakes and women who visit with big purses than their seven grandchildren.

"This is a home and not a museum. Art, for us, is part of what a home is," says Sam, standing in his family room next to a Dan Dailey glass sculpture that was lent to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last year. "There is no reason art and children cannot coexist."

Every home has something of value that is off-limits to children. But with art, adults want to display it and kids want to touch it. Colorful paintings and sparkling glass pieces "are inviting because of the texture artists put into them," says Suzanne Isken, director of education for the Museum of Contemporary Art. "Teaching adults, let alone children, not to touch is a huge task."

Museums employ guards, ropes and alarms to keep onlookers at bay. At home, experts say kids can be trained and art can be placed behind see-through barriers or out of reach of probing little fingers.

"All of our grandchildren have learned these very important words: 'Be careful,' " Sam says. "The older children respect the art. Shai, the youngest, still has to be watched all the time, but even he knows he can't throw a ball in here and he loves to throw balls."

But not everyone shares this sense of live and let live. Placing art too close to kids and telling them not to poke it is "unfair to the child and it's unfair to the artist," says Rosamund Felsen, a Santa Monica art gallery owner and mother of four. "There is no good way to protect art without changing the perspective or having something come between the viewer and the artwork."

She advises parents to continue to collect but store the art someplace else -- "let friends have it in their house" -- until children are older.

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"I couldn't imagine living in a house without art," says Jennifer Simon, who grew up in L.A. with Lichtensteins, Henry Moores and Brancusis at home. She earned a degree in art history at Tulane University, started acquiring original paintings and then got married. She now has a 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter who are learning as she did to live with beautiful objects. "When I was buying art before I had children, I never thought about them ruining it."

When her son turned 1, Simon remembered a Mommy and Me class she attended in which the discussion turned to baby-proofing the house. "Kids are kids and will touch stuff," she says she learned. "The instructor said to really think about what's in the house so I wouldn't have to say 'No, no, no' all the time because that's not positive."

Simon called Russ Roberts at Art Services Melrose to walk through her Beverly Hills house and suggest safety and conservation methods for the artwork. Most of the paintings are too high on walls to be tapped by gooey fingers. But in the living room there is a floor-to-ceiling oil on canvas by Wesley Kimler.

Roberts designed a round-edged acrylic panel that rises about 3 feet from the ground and wraps around the canvas. It's secured to the wall with cleats, making it strong enough to withstand earthquakes and "kids climbing on it," he says. "We created something protective and aesthetically pleasing. The case doesn't harm the art, and it can be removed."

But it may just stay in place. The acrylic panel doesn't bother Simon. "I don't know if I'd ever remove it, even when my children are older," she says. "Maybe I'll keep it for my grandchildren. It would work for dog-proofing too."

Children can put their hands all over the 16-foot-high Ann Weber sculpture in the atrium. "It's made out of cardboard boxes that have survived being shipped around the county," she says. "Kids can't hurt it." Roberts anchored it to the top of the stairs with fishing wire to make sure it doesn't topple over. There is also an indestructible metal sculpture of two intertwining rings in the front yard that her children and their friends walk through.

Simon also installed prints by Richard Tuttle and Robert Rauschenberg in her daughter's room and a Sam Gilliam painting in her son's room. "Instead of a mural of painted clouds, I put fine art in my children's rooms," she says. "They're not going to outgrow it."

MOCA's Isken says the study of art, often neglected in schools, helps children think creatively. "Seeing the real thing is different from seeing something in a book," she says. "There's a relationship between you and the artist."

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