Getting to Know "Pretty Baby"
Posted by Erin on February 13, 2007 - 5:37pm
Categories: On the Walls

Yoshitomo Nara, Dogs from your childhood, 1999.

So this has been quite a journey. When I began my duties as research assistant to the curatorial department this past summer, I was introduced to a world of artists whose work, in one way or another, deals with childhood. Though many of the artists' names were familiar to me, there were several I was excited to "discover." Among the artists included in curator Andrea Karnes' upcoming exhibition entitled Pretty Baby, are art world favorites as well as a refreshing handful of up and coming artists. The talents and approaches of this group are varied, which adds to my excitement of actually seeing this show installed in full. In her exhibition catalogue, Karnes covers the varied and colorful history of depictions of childhood, setting the viewer up for an enlightened trip through the galleries. As she states in her introductory essay, "since the twentieth century, portrayals of childhood have incited intense reactions, ranging from euphoria to revulsion to extreme fear." Tying in the work of contemporary artists from Sally Mann to Takashi Murakami, Karnes allows the viewer to experience the work of such varied artists in a novel way.

As one who has researched for this exhibition for many months, I am happy to report that my first viewing of the actual work in this show was a treat. From Yoshitomo Nara's larger-than-life puppies on stilts (see image above) and Margaret Meehan's amazingly delicate sculpted little girl heads, to Sanford Biggers and Jennifer Zackin's superb video installation, the experiences and feelings of childhood resonate in a conceptually, aesthetically, and emotionally fulfilling way. Though I can not adequately cover each artist in this post, it should be said that each artist delivers a new dimension to the explorative spirit of the exhibition.

Artists such as Catherine Opie and Loretta Lux deliver lush, highly detailed photographic portraits of young children, albeit treating their images of these children in very different ways. Nathalie Djurberg's clamation-like videos expose the darker side of little girls, their brutality all too evident in the destruction of a man presumed to be their father. Rineke Dijkstra's iconic full length portraits of teenagers, often posed uneasily in their bathing suits, serve to highlight the universal awkwardness of adolescence, regardless of class or nationality. Adam Fuss's delicate black and white photographs of christening gowns are both somber and magical, as if floating, cloudlike, and waiting for our approach.

Makiko Kudo's whimsical compositions feature little girls in dreamlike landscapes. The figures that populate her canvases are usually engaged in some sort of personal experience; it feels as if the viewer is introduced to some sort of narrative, vaguely let in at mid-scene. Both Kudo and Charlotta Westergren use the medium of paint to convey their images of little girls, the latter's work based in her personal experience with her artist sister.

In short, this exhibition effectively runs the gamut of media with powerful results. Although each of these artists handle the subject of childhood with a distinct aesthetic and approach, each taps into the underlying currents of a segment of life that is at once magical, terrifying, and delightful.