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We go to the gallery by Miriam Elia
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We go to the gallery (2014)

by Miriam Elia

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Many readers will have come across the recent 'Ladybird Books for Adults', which gently lampoon the style of the original Ladybird books for children. These have titles like 'The Husband', 'The Wife', 'The Shed' and 'The Hipster'; they take illustrations from the original Ladybird books and marry them to ironic and slightly surreal texts aimed at amusing adult readers who remember the originals. What a jolly wheeze, many people thought, and you can find these in many of the places where baby boomers congregate, especially in the gift shops of National Trust properties, where they provide evidence that the Trust can actually do post-modernism and irony.

But many may have missed the fact that Penguin, who now own the Ladybird imprint, 'lifted' the concept from somewhere else. In 2015, an artist called Miriam Elia produced a spoof Ladybird book entitled "We go to the gallery", created in the style of the Ladybird books, and poking fun at the often po-faced London contemporary art scene. In this book, two children are taken by their Mummy to an art gallery. "Is the art pretty?" asks one of the children, as the illustration shows them entering the exhibition space under a large, angry caption declaring the exhibition to be entitled "The Death of Meaning". Things go downhill from there.

Penguin Books were not amused. Elia had been way too accurate with her imitation, down to publishers' logos and the names of the child characters from the originals. Solicitors' letters soon started flying about, and the original print run was withdrawn and pulped.

Then three things happened. Firstly, the law on copyright changed to make parodies far more legally acceptable. And the story of 'We go to the gallery' went viral. And Penguin decided to get in on the act by releasing their own parodies of the properties they now controlled.

(See http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/22/the-flyaway-success-of-the-ladybird...)

Which has meant that 'We go to the gallery' can now be published again, with sufficient changes to satisfy Penguin. In fact, these changes - changing the names of the children, and creating a bogus imprint for the book, 'Dung Beetle', complete with its own history (their 1938 guide to fascism for under-5s, 'Why we burn books', is widely sought after) - add to the depth of the original product.

For anyone who has a healthy disregard for contemporary art, this book is required reading, though do be aware that it is certainly not suitable for children. It is also unlikely that National Trust gift shops will be stocking it any time soon. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Jun 24, 2016 |
Same familiar format as the new series of Ladybird Books for Grown-ups (Mid-life Crisis, etc.) but does, I think, hit its target more successfully: the minimalist text helps a lot. When I saw the page with the picture of the screaming man I was reminded of the question I asked myself at the end of my review of the catalogue for the exhibition of Francis Bacon's work at Tate Britain - https://www.librarything.com/work/6260746/reviews/39507465

This book can be comfortably read for free while standing in the book store but don't be a skinflint! Buy one and take it home! It should be required reading for all the Turner Prize judges. ( )
1 vote abbottthomas | Jan 3, 2016 |
Modern art, new 'Ladybird' style. 'John feels violated'. Hilarious.
  jon1lambert | Dec 19, 2015 |
You are either going to absolutely love this book or absolutely hate it. I am one of the former.

Written in the style of the old Dick and Jane books (Are they around anymore? Is their equivalent out there warping little minds in the same way?), we visit an art gallery with Susan, John, and Mummy. The illustrations look as if they have been ripped from those 50s/60s mainstays and it is written in short declarative sentences which are used to introduce new words such as "pretty", "important", "dead", and "feminist".

Starting to get a feel for what this is like?

As it is a rather small book, it doesn't make sense to go on at length (in fact, my word count is probably already more than the book's), nor to quote extensively. However, let me provide the contents of one page to give you a taste. "There is nothing in the room. John is confused. Susan is confused. Mummy is happy. 'There is nothing in the room because God is dead,' says Mummy. 'Oh dear,' says John." The associated new words are "God", "dead", and "confused."

Okay, typing it out that way may not do it justice, but that was one of the pages that, when I saw a few as a preview, convinced me I had to have this book.

Again, you will either hate it or love it. I loved it. And if you are just a slight bit off kilter, you should love it also.

One final comment: The tone of the book is held throughout. The book is produced by "Dung Beetle Learning". The history of this fine learning group is included at the end of the book, including this quote, "Dung Beetle's first success came in 1938 with the publication of Why We Burn Books."

I'd pay money for that one, too. ( )
1 vote figre | Sep 4, 2014 |
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Have you taken children to a gallery recently? Did you struggle to explain the work to them in plain, simple English? With this new Dung Beetle book, both parents and young children can learn about contemporary art, and understand many of its key themes. The jolly colourful illustrations will enable your child to smoothly internalize all of the debilitating middle class self-hatred contained in each artwork. New words on every page will also help your child to identify core concepts, so that they may repeat them at dinner parties to impress educated guests.… (more)

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