Peter, Jane, and Mummy Go to the Gallery

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Balloon Dogged by Jeff Koons.

Parents say the darndest things. Art can be hard to understand but like it or not, kids ask questions and they will whine until you answer. Parents do their best, of course, but when it comes to contemporary art, really, what can you say. Miriam Elia is here aid budding parents, and kids who can read large print. She’s put her Royal College of Arts degree and artsy London wit to good use in her little book We Go to the Gallery (2014).

A 1960s-like homemaker Mom and her public-school kids Peter and Jane go to the gallery and come face-to-face with Balloon Dog by Koons and works by Damien Hirst, Tracy Emin, Martin Creed and others. Its all horribly confusing to the proper children but Mommy is confident and teaches them about sex, death, nothingness and ‘all of the debilitating, middle-class self-hatred contained in the artworks.’ 


Look mommy, I’m poisoning the parakeet. 

In the 1960s and 1970s British primary schools taught kids to read with a series of 36 small-format books by London-based publisher Ladybird Books. The Key Words Reading Scheme series uses a model 1960s English family – the UK equivalent of the Brady Bunch, without the musical flair and wild hair – to learn the beauty of the English language. They encounter lots of farm animals and learn how to spell ‘horse’ and ‘jump.’ It’s pedagogy for non-existent middle class dullards. 

We Go the Gallery is exactly like a Ladybird reading scheme book. The Peter is wearing a tie, jumper and knee-high socks. Mom has the 1960s cropped hair and knee-length matching skirt and jacket. The kids have good posture and a painfully earnest interest in art. They are all impeccable. 

There is more than meets the eye to Mommy however. 


In a Georgia O'Keeffe vagina vortex.

Elia is in a heap of trouble, but not for her particular contribution to parenting or art appreciation.

The book hasn’t offended artists either. But the mega-global publishing master of the universe Penguin-Random House is another matter.


You’re in a heap of trouble young lady! Photograph: Earl Gateshead.

The Ladybird Books publisher was bought by curmudgeonly Penguin in the 1980s, which was then owned by global media company Pearson PLC. Pearson then merged with Random House-owner Bertelsmann SE & Co to form Penguin-Random House. The whole lot is owned by-and-large, and as far as I can make out without being a corporate lawyer, by the Mohn family in Germany.  

And the Mohns’ ain’t messing about. Penguin has told Elia to pulp the all copies of the book or face a lawsuit for copyright infringement. 



Shitty little Coccinellidae

Recently deceased Reinhard Mohn built a global publishing empire after he learnt English and the secrets of American business in Kansas. That’s the Midwest for you, giving away trade secrets with no regard to the future. Reinhard ‘lived’ in Kansas in the 1940s with another 4,000 plus Germans at Camp Concordia, after American troops shot and captured him. Like Penguin-Random House, the German army in World War II lacked a sense of humor and sent poor Reinhard, at age 18, to Rommel’s Afrika Korps in Tunisia. The publishing-giant to be was soon captured and shipped off to the US of A, along with 300,000 other compatriot POWs. Reinhard was clearly good at seeing opportunity and didn’t waste his time as a prisoner of war. Battle-hardened, a survivor of Kansas, and fiercely driven, he became ultra-rich and powerful. 

As far as we know, the lovely, sweet, and lighthearted Elia has led a war-free life, is stone-broke, and lacks the ruthless cunning that is required for empire building. She did however, raise £5000 on the crowd-funding website Kickstarter and published the book herself. That’s pretty enterprising. She’s now auctioning of copies of the book to cover legal fees. We are in line to buy one.


Space is Art. God is Space. Yeah, Art is God! Martin Creed went on from the empty room to the yellow neon sign Don’t Worry.

Legal battle or not, parents still suffer the kids’ unending questions and respond by saying the most unbelievable things about art. There’s great need for help. Thank god, oops, We Go to the Gallery is here to help us in this.

In the next edition of We Go to the Gallery she will replace the Ladybug Logo with a Dung Beetle.

By Rivaat Zarlif



  2. Miriam Elia, Learning with Miriam
  4. Miriam Elia, We Go to the Gallery Book Launch
  6. Alice Jones, ‘Mummy, I could have done that’ - new book pokes fun at modern art, The Independent
  8. Gareth Rubin, Artist’s spoof Ladybird book provokes wrath of Penguin, The Guardian
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Rivaat Zarlif


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