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Boston Museum Explores How Childhood Inspires Artists and Art

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This article is part of our Fine Arts & Exhibits special section on how museums, galleries and auction houses are embracing new artists, new concepts and new traditions.


The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston has bold ambitions for “To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood,” its thematic group exhibition that explores how visual artists have been inspired and influenced by children and childhood, on view through Feb. 26.

“Children and childhood, their role in society,” said Jill Medvedow, the institute’s director, “their visibility or invisibility, their creativity, their resilience, and their plight, have for a long, long time — decades, centuries — been a source of interest, engagement and concern for artists.”

Combined with the “sense of urgency that we collectively feel about children” — from education equality and immigration to the impact of the pandemic — Ms. Medvedow said, “this show gives us the opportunity to shine a spotlight on children anew.”

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More than 75 paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings, videos and installations by 40 20th- and 21st-century artists are on display, from well-known ones like Paul Klee, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Faith Ringgold to many midcareer and emerging artists.

“Tar Beach #2” (1990-92) by Faith Ringgold.
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; ACA Galleries, New York

Topics include thorny issues such as how Black children are portrayed in popular media by the contemporary artist Deborah Roberts but also the work of Francis Alÿs of Belgium, who documented children all over the world playing games.

“They are magnetic,” Ms. Medvedow said. “You don’t want to stop looking at these incredible videos.”

Ruth Erickson, a senior curator who had the idea for the show, said that though there had been many exhibitions about childhood, this one takes a new approach. “The vast majority meant representational pictures of children, but the focus here is on artists and how the engagement with children or the cultural construct of childhood changed their practice,” she said. “At its heart, the project centers on a subject or an experience that might previously have been on the margins.”

The project started with a simple question to artists: What about childhood provided the spark that led you to embrace the topic in your practice?

“Artists talked about the beauty of a child’s scribble, the enchantment of a book’s page and the creativity of caretaking,” Dr. Erickson said. Those conversations ended up giving form to the exhibition’s six thematic sections.

Mel Taing

Among Children, in the first gallery, features a room of figurative sculptures of children. “The idea is that by walking amongst these works, visitors encounter the myriad ways artists have employed the child figure to evoke sentiments and experiences of joy, play, vulnerability, and resilience,” Dr. Erickson said.

“Some works are cast from the bodies of actual children, as in John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres’s celebratory relief sculpture of a game of double Dutch or Karon Davis’s plaster sculpture of two girls playing patty-cakes.” The Mexican artist Berenice Olmedo uses a child’s castoff leg braces “to create a kinetic sculpture that appears to fall and stand in an unending cycle.”

Draw Like a Child explores the expressive and imaginative capacities of children and how they create art. The earliest piece in the show is a drawing Paul Klee made in 1884 when he was about 5 that he found on a visit home as a dissatisfied art student.

“It was an unexpected source of inspiration for him,” Dr. Erickson said. “The untutored form of mark making and the ideas of representation and abstraction were such an important influence in the development of his own oeuvre and arguably in the development of Modern art.”

Brian Belott’s installation “Dr. Kid President Jr. (2022),” one of three commissions reimagined for the exhibition from previous installations, centers on 26 works from the extensive collection of children’s art assembled by the early childhood educator Rhoda Kellogg and his own copies of some of them.

“Children have nonsense, they have free association, they have nonlinear thinking and non-narrative thinking,” he said. “They live in a fantasy and imaginary-driven existence.”

The son of two teachers of elementary school, Mr. Belott became fascinated with children’s art at a young age and started collecting works as a teenager. “There’s a godlike energy to them, a kind of fury, an outpouring; it’s unstoppable, it’s a force of nature,” he said.

He, like many artists, tries to reclaim a childlike mind-set, and “this primordial soup of ecstatic, creative energy that kids have an endless amount of,” in his own practice. “Children are actually brilliant artists, and adults should have confidence in their own self-exploring.”

Ekua Holmes

The Page Is a World examines the world of children’s literature and artists’ contributions. “I love this idea of how artists interpret as children, for children, about children,” said Ekua Holmes, whose recent illustrations from “Hope Is an Arrow, ” a children’s biography of Kahlil Gibran, author of “The Prophet,” are featured. The story focuses on Gibran’s childhood in Boston after immigrating from Lebanon, his struggles to fit in in America, and being an artist and wanting to heal the world through his art.

“There is a pattern in many of the books that I’ve done,” Ms. Holmes said. “There’s someone or something that happens in that wet clay that we call childhood, some impression that stays and carries the person to this destiny.

“I remember from my own childhood, the feeling of being invisible to many adults. Who are the people who noticed you as a child, looked into your eyes, saw your gifts, and fostered your talents? What I want most is for children to feel seen.”

Born Into Being addresses agency, power, the complex ways that a child’s identity is formed, and how children are often marginalized. “I think children present a complicated test case for thinking about questions of power,” Dr. Erickson said.

Gestures of Care invites viewers to consider the visibility of all caretakers. It was easy to find images of mothers in the realms of art history and contemporary art, Dr. Erickson said, but “very challenging to find images of other kinds of caretakers, like fathers, domestic workers and nannies.” Jay Lynn Gomez, who created a large body of work featuring domestic workers, is represented with a piece titled “Nanny and Child.”

Oscar Murillo

After School highlights unexpected paths of learning. Featured are Carmen Winant’s new installation that assembles more than 300 instructional books written for young people on topics like how to deal with divorce or how to make handmade ceramics; and a selection from Oscar Murillo’s “Frequencies,” a continuing project of more than 40,000 works from schools in more than 30 countries, made by wrapping blank canvases around children’s desks and leaving them in place for a few months to create a space to be drawn and painted on.

The exhibition incorporates design and accessibility elements for children, like low-hanging artworks and age-appropriate wall labels so younger children can easily view and read them. It includes a reading room, an interactive drawing table where visitors can make their own works, and a series of special programs.

Anne Higonnet, an art history professor at Barnard College who specializes in the study of childhood, taught and took part in several seminars about the planning of the exhibition, including one with the institute.

“The belief in one particular kind of childhood was so strong for many, many decades,” Professor Higonnet said, “that it blinded art historians to any kind of analysis of the subject of childhood. We all just bought into a very particularly modern, European and upper-class definition.”

“‘To Begin Again’ includes artists who have pointed out the extreme range of childhood experiences,” she added, “artists who were not afraid to represent the anxieties, the fears, the ambivalences of childhood, and the socially, racially and economically unjust experiences.” But the curators, she said, “didn’t let go of all the positive things about childhood, like the marvelously open-minded and joyful aspects of a child’s imagination.”

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Toronto Biennial of Art Appoints Curators – Galleries West

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The Toronto Biennial of Art has appointed Montreal curator Dominique Fontaine and Peruvian curator Miguel A. López as co-curators of its 2024 edition.

Fontaine, who was born in Haiti, is a founding director of aposteriori, a non-profit curatorial platform that produces diverse and innovative contemporary art. Her projects include curating Between the earth and the sky, the possibility of everything for Scotiabank Nuit Blanche in Toronto in 2014, and co-curating the survey exhibition Here, We Are Here: Black Canadian Contemporary, which showed at the Royal Ontario Museum and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2018. 

López worked as chief curator, and later as co-director, of TEOR/éTica in San José, Costa Rica, from 2015 to 2020. In 2019, he curated the retrospective exhibition Cecilia Vicuña: Seehearing the Enlightened Failure at the Witte de With (now Kunstinstituut Melly) in Rotterdam. The exhibition travelled to Mexico City, Madrid and Bogota. 

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Patrizia Libralato, the biennial’s executive director, said the two curators will contribute scholarship, innovation and inspiration to deepen the event’s connections to both local communities and global conversations.

“Together, we aim to create an event as uniquely diverse, responsive, challenging and engaging as the city itself,” she said.

The biennial, which will run from Sept. 21 to Dec. 1, 2024, attracted more then 450,000 visitors to its first two editions, which featured free programming across the city. 

It has featured work by artists such as AA Bronson, Judy Chicago, Brian Jungen, Tanya Lukin Linklater, Kapwani Kiwanga, Caroline Monnet, Denyse Thomasos and Camille Turner.


Source: Toronto Biennial of Art

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Football and art come together in the first NFT exhibition of its kind

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–  The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture’s From Strike to Stroke exhibit features 64 FIFA World Cup match results in a unique man-machine collaboration

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 6, 2022 /CNW/ — The King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) celebrates the art of the beautiful game in a unique exhibition at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. From Strike to Stroke features 64 NFTs by 32 artists from the competing nations, while Artificial Intelligence (AI) fuses the pieces from the contending two countries in each of the 64 matches into a unique piece based on the match outcome. The result will be a singular collection of one-of-a-kind NFTs created through a collaboration of man and machine. Strike to Stroke runs at the Msheireb Galleria Doha, Qatar until December 23.

Ithra, a cultural bridge between Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, channels the world’s passion for football into its infatuation with the arts as the world comes together for the World Cup. The exhibition melds the man-made with the machine-made, and combines art, sport and technology in an innovative fashion.

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It features the work of 32 emerging and established artists, each tasked with creating a piece representing their country and using their respective team’s jersey colors. After each match, the AI-powered algorithm combines the artists’ creations with match statistics to generate unique pieces that represent each game. The collection will be a unique set of pieces presented as NFTs – non-fungible tokens. These cryptographic assets are based on blockchain technology, and created in a process similar to cryptocurrencies.

From Strike to Stroke includes artists who have never created NFTs and NFT artists who had not worked within traditional fine art.

“The passion shared by football fans for the love of the beautiful game can be tangential to the passion shared by art aesthetes,” said Dr. Shurooq Amin in her curator’s brief to the exhibition. “By connecting 32 artists from both the traditional and digital arenas, Ithra not only bridges the gap between Web2 to Web3, and between football and art, but furthermore between human and machine, as the artists collaborate with AI generation technology to create unique NFTs that combine art, football and technology.”

Visit www.striketostroke.com.

Images and exhibition catalogue can be found here.

For more information on Ithra and its programs, visit www.ithra.com.

Photo – https://mma.prnewswire.com/media/1961775/Ithra_World_Cup_NFTs.jpg

SOURCE King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra)

For further information: Media contacts: Nour Aldajani, [email protected], +966-583268120, Nora Al Harthi, [email protected], Domia Abdi, [email protected], Hadeel Eisa, [email protected]

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Richard Serra’s art installation hard to miss in Qatar desert, once you get there

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Depending on the direction you approach, you see only part of the art. As you get closer, the dark plates get bigger and bigger and you get to see all four.The Canadian Press

Art stands tall in the desert some 75 kilometres northwest of Doha.

You need a rugged vehicle and no small resolve to find it, given signage is almost non-existent. The last few kilometres take time as you cross the desert on a slightly flattened but irregular path well away from the closest blacktop. Proceed with caution.

But East-West/West-East by American sculptor Richard Serra is worth the effort.

Completed in 2014, the installation comprises four giant steel plates – the outer two stand 16.7 metres high and the inner two 14.7 metres – and span more than a kilometre. Slightly different in height, to compensate for the difference in ground level, they line up like enormous fence posts in the barren desert flanked by gypsum plateaus at some points.

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If not the middle of nowhere, it’s well on the way.

Possibly the last place on earth you’d expect to see “one of the most significant artists of his generation,” as Serra is dubbed by the Gagosian Gallery which has showcased his work in both New York and France.

“Taking art to the people,” is how Qatar Museums, the country’s arts and culture arm, explains it.

Depending on the direction you approach, you see only part of the art. As you get closer, the dark plates get bigger and bigger and you get to see all four.

“After the perceptual bombardment of Doha, with its architecture dominated by idiosyncratic shapes and kitschy facades, the sensuous experience prompted by the rigorous abstraction of the (desert) sculpture is at once bracing and sensitizing,” wrote Artforum magazine.

“Serra reminds the viewer, like 19th-century German Romantic artists such as Caspar David Friedrich, of man’s frailty in the face of nature’s omnipotence,” added Numero magazine.

For non art-critics, imagine the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey on steroids and times four in the desert. Stand next to one and you feel like an ant – a very hot ant under the blazing Qatari sun.

You’ll also likely be alone, albeit under review from what seemed like security in a nearby pickup truck.

The 84-year-old Serra, who worked in steel mills during college, is known for his large-scale abstract steel sculptures.

There is another in Doha itself. A sculpture called 7 – the number seven has spiritual significance in Islamic culture – was commissioned by Qatar Museums.

Built out of seven steel plates, it faces the sea at MIA Park, adjacent to the Museum of Islamic Art.

Like a billionaire stocking his mansion with objets d’art, the government of Qatar has dug deep into its oil-filled coffers to decorate the country with world-class art.

There are big-ticket art works all over.

In 2013, Qatar Museums Authority head Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani, the daughter of the emir of Qatar, was listed atop ArtReview magazine’s annual Power 100 list “on account of her organization’s vast purchasing power and willingness to spend at a rate estimated to be US$1-billion a year – in order to get top works of art for its Doha museums,” ArtReview said.

Le Pouce, a giant golden thumb by French artist Cesar Baldaccini, is front and centre in Doha’s Souq Waqif market. French-American artist Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, a giant spider that can also be found outside Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada, stands inside the Qatar National Convention Center (QNCC), which doubles as the World Cup’s main press centre.

Another edition of Maman, one of seven, was sold for US$32-million by Christie’s in 2019.

“The Miraculous Journey” by English artist Damien Hirst is hard to miss outside Sidra Medicine centre just down the street from the QNCC. The 14 monumental bronze sculptures chronicle the gestation of a fetus inside a uterus, from conception to birth – ending with a statue of a 14-metre-tall anatomically correct baby boy.

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Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022

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