Astrid, who is five years old, may be the world’s youngest exhibition curator.
She expresses excitement for her new position by saying, “I’m really looking forward to deciding where the art goes.” “I’ve also had a lot of fun working with Daddy!”
Will Cooper, Astrid’s co-curator on a new art exhibit called My Kid Could’ve Done That!, happens to be Daddy. The title is witty, referring to the standard tabloid criticism of modern art that doesn’t resemble Rembrandt. Rather of asking audience members to identify which scribbles on the wall are highly theoretical abstract works and which are baby doodles, the exhibition invites 15 artists (including Ryan Gander, Emily Speed, and Jasleen Kaur) to collaborate with their children to produce work. The goal is to expose some deeper realities about family creativity, the blurring of work and play, and the precarious condition of childcare for independent creatives — all of which have become more apparent as the epidemic has progressed.
Cooper explains, “It’s not supposed to be a cutesy exhibition of sugar paper drawings that go up in the foyer during the summer, lovely as they are.” “It was critical to treat the show as you would any other piece of artwork in an exhibition, with climate control, just like any other big-name artist’s show.”
Cooper didn’t want to dictate what the artists should accomplish, so the exhibition will include a variety of interesting perspectives on the creative possibilities that emerge when children are allowed to contribute/run wild in the studio. Kate Owens has integrated her daughter Trudy’s love of mazes into her work, while Kaur has been creating samosa sculptures with her son Rai – partially to give him something enjoyable to play with afterwards. All of this is subject to change until the show’s date, as anybody familiar with toddler attention spans would appreciate.
Several artists felt obliged to remark on the difficulties of balancing childcare and artistic professions, despite the fact that their work was obviously lighthearted and joyful. Harriet Bowman, a sculptor and installation artist, intended her piece to reflect her years of sharing her workshop with her son Len. She had planned to create something using Len’s favorite medium, clay, but then wondered if she could reflect the less “creative” side of having a child in the studio four days a week. When she has a full day ahead of her and a deadline to meet, Len confesses that she will watch programs like Yakka Dee and Alphablocks for hours on end as she works.
Bowman wanted to represent that fact – and the shame that comes with it – by creating wallpaper using screenprints of Len’s favorite programs and a text that encompasses everything they’ve done in the studio together over the last four years: “It lists work being broken, his tantrums, my embarrassment and shame, prams fitting in lifts, lifts being out of service, constant tidying, going to meetings with leaking breasts, and someone walking away with my birth plan printout from the shared photocopier,” she adds with commendable candor. The wallpaper will cover the gallery’s full back wall and has been a fun learning experience for her as an artist. “I felt a lot of pressure in the beginning stages of planning to make something ‘arty’ with Len. But as soon as I began putting any kind of pressure on Len, he pushed back and grew uninterested.”
The goal, like with all of the artists, was to create a middle ground that seemed like a real partnership. That goes for the curatorial side as well, which prompted Cooper to adjust his working techniques to those of his daughter.
He adds, “Kids don’t hold back.” “If I ask if something is a good idea, she will either say yes or no.”
Astrid has her own strong opinions on what the show should include. She wants some of her own work included (“which isn’t something a curator would normally do,” her father jokes) and insists that all of the artworks be labeled. “I’m not sure if she’s referring to the labels that go on the walls or the actual physical signs that direct you to the paintings. But that’s the one constant she’s said throughout the year and a half we’ve been planning, so we’ll have to make it happen.”
She also has a special request: after seeing an old Ferrero Rocher commercial, Astrid determined that the exhibition’s private view should include a pyramid identical to that of the Ferrero Rocher commercial, but constructed out of Tunnock’s Teacakes.
“And, let’s be honest,” Will adds, “that’s something that every exhibition should have.”