When it comes to artists, the conventional wisdom is they were born with talent. But as you’ll see at the first-ever My Kid Could Do That art show, the childhood creations of professional artists don’t always hint at future gallery material.
The free show, taking place April 29 at Red Bull Arts New York in Chelsea, will display modern and childhood works side-by-side from 24 established contemporary artists like surrealist sculptor Daniel Arsham, “light painter” Grimanesa Amoros, Danish architect Olafur Eliasson.
“These folks were given a chance to create when no one thought they would become such informers of our cultural identity,” says Adarsh Alphons, founder of ProjectArt, a group of artist-educators who hold after-school art classes at libraries in New York, Detroit and Miami, with plans to expand to Chicago, L.A. and Pittsburgh. “What is more biographical, and at the same time relatable to everyone, than works that were created when no one could imagine who they would turn out to be?”
Alphons found the artists through his network and even contacted some out of the blue. “A lot of them were like, ‘What an odd request — wait, maybe my mom has something,’” and mailed him art from the attics, walls and basements of their families’ homes.
The pieces were created at various ages, from as young as 4 up to 17. While you can see some of these kids already had a unique point of view — like abstract painter Katherine Bradford’s mother and baby elephants, depicted standing up rather than sideways — most look just like, you guessed it, something your kid could’ve done.
The childhood works are not for sale — “it’s kind of out of the bounds of the commercial art world” — but the contemporary works are all being auctioned at a benefit dinner on April 28, with part of the proceeds benefitting ProjectArt (tickets are still available).
Art education for children is a personal cause for Alphons. His constant doodling wasn’t appreciated by his strict Catholic elementary school in India, which expelled him.
It wasn’t until an art teacher at his next school nurtured 7-year-old Alphons’ talent that his academics began to flourish, too. He even gave one of his drawings to Nelson Mandela on a visit to his school. “It kind of just blew my mind — art brought me to this place, to this moment,” he recalls.
It’s the same opportunity Alphons hopes to give others with My Kid Could Do That, which also includes a free children’s workshop: “These could be my kids, these could be your kids, this could be a kid struggling in a school in Kenya — you never know, so let’s give them a chance to express themselves creatively and see what happens.”