‘It’s not cutesy’: the art exhibition co-organized by a five-year-old | Art


At five, Astrid could be the youngest curator of all time.

“I can’t wait to decide where the art goes,” she says, demonstrating a natural instinct for her new role. “And I also really enjoyed working with dad! “

Dad turns out to be Will Cooper, Astrid’s co-curator in a new art show called My Child Could Have Done That! The headline is cheeky, alluding to the tabloids’ rejection of any contemporary art that doesn’t look like a Rembrandt. But the show is more nuanced: rather than having viewers guess which scribbles on the wall are highly theoretical abstract works and which are doodles for toddlers, it invites 15 artists (Ryan Gander, Emily Speed ​​and Jasleen Kaur among them) to create works alongside their children. The goal is to reveal deeper truths about family creativity, the blurring of work and play, and the perilous state of childcare for independent creatives – all areas that were highlighted during the pandemic.

“It’s not supposed to be a cute display of sugar paper drawings going up in the foyer during the summer, no matter how beautiful they are,” says Cooper. “It was important to treat the exhibition the same way you would treat artwork in any exhibition, to make it climate controlled as you would any renowned artist exhibition. . “

Five-year-old Astrid Cooper with her self-portrait. Photography: Will Cooper

Cooper didn’t want to be prescriptive about what artists should be doing, so the show will feature a range of intriguing takes on the artistic possibilities that arise when kids are allowed to contribute / lash out in the studio. Dickon Drury left his son Cosmo’s colorful markings on the canvas; Kate Owens incorporated her daughter Trudy’s love for mazes into her work, and Kaur made samosa sculptures with her son Rai – in part to give him something fun to play with afterwards. All of this, as anyone familiar with toddler’s attention span will understand, is subject to change until the date of the show.

While clearly playful and fun, several artists found themselves compelled to comment on the ordeals of juggling childcare and creative careers. Sculptor and installation artist Harriet Bowman wanted her work to represent the experience of sharing her studio with her son Len over the years. She had initially planned to do something with Len’s favorite material, clay, but then wondered if she could find a way to represent the other, less “creative” part of having a child in the studio. four days a week. The reality, she admits, is that when she has busy days and deadlines to meet, Len will watch shows like Yakka Dee and Alphablocks for hours as she continues her job.

Bowman wanted to reflect that reality – and the guilt she sometimes feels – by creating wallpaper that features screenprints of shows Len loves and text that covers everything they’ve done as a duet in the studio over the past four years. years: lists interrupted work, her temper tantrums, embarrassment and shame, strollers in elevators, out of service elevators, constant tidying up, dates with leaky breasts and someone failing ‘So goes with printing my birth plan from the shared copier, ”she said with admirable honesty. The wallpaper will cover the entire back wall of the gallery and has been an interesting learning curve for her as an artist. “In the early stages of planning, I felt a pressure to do something ‘artistic’ with Len. But the moment I started to put any pressure on the creation, Len immediately backed down and lost interest.

“Kids don’t hold back” … Lilah Fowler and Reia Fite-Fowler: a flying ball machine that I can sit on. Photography: courtesy of the artists

As with all artists, the key was to find a compromise that felt like a real collaboration. This also goes for the conservative side, which forced Cooper to adapt to his daughter’s working methods.

“Children don’t hold back,” he says. “If I ask if something is a good idea, she’ll either say yes or ‘no, it’s a bad idea’.”

Astrid certainly has her own thoughts on what the exhibition should involve. She wants some of her own artwork to be included (“which is not something a curator would normally do,” her father laughs) and is also adamant that signs should be made for all. pieces. “I don’t know if she is talking about the labels that go on the walls or real physical signs that tell you the direction of the paintings. But for the past year and a half, we’ve planned that this is the one constant she talked about, so we’ll have to get there.

She also has another important request: after watching an old Ferrero Rocher commercial, Astrid decided that the opening of the exhibition should have a similar pyramid – but made of Tunnock’s Teacakes.

“And let’s face it,” Will says, “this is something every show should have. “

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