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ICA/Boston exhibit explores childhood

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
ICA/Boston exhibit explores childhood
Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “The Beautyful Ones” Series #7, 2018. Acrylic, colored pencil, and transfers on paper. 59 7/8 × 42 1/2 inches (152.1 × 108 cm). Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston; Acquired through the generosity of Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté, in honor of Eva Respini. © Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Forty professional artists and a collection of youth artists reflect on the importance of childhood in “To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood,” running at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston Oct. 6 through Feb. 26. The exhibit explores how children inspire artists, how children approach artwork and life, and how artists’ own childhoods shape their work and worldviews.

Jordan Casteel, Twins (Subway), 2018. Oil on canvas. 56 x 72 inches (142.2 x 182.9 cm). Collection of Kimberly and Elliot Perry, Memphis, Tennessee Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York. © Jordan Casteel

“This is an exciting exhibition with a range of art that explores the influence of children on visual artists from Paul Klee and Jean-Michel Basquiat to Jordan Casteel and Sable Elyse Smith,” says Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss director. “Presenting a diverse array of artworks spanning time, geography, generations and cultures, ‘To Begin Again’ crafts an important narrative about modernism, innocence and the institutional structures surrounding childhood.”

In addition to heralding the importance of the formative years, “To Begin Again” delves into how race, economic circumstances, location and other factors shape a childhood, and therefore a perception of youth. There is no single experience of childhood, but early experiences are the foundation on which an individual, and often the society around them, is built.

The exhibition is organized in six thematic sections: “Among Children,” “Draw Like a Child,” “The Page Is a World,” “Born into Being,” “Gestures of Care” and “After School.” Each area explores a different facet of childhood, from children’s literature to family relationships and inequities in childhood that begin at birth.

Naturally, an exhibit about childhood needs to embrace children, and the space has been specifically curated to be welcoming to visitors of all ages.

Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach #2, 1990–92. Silkscreen on silk. 60 × 59 inches (152.4 × 149.9 cm). Courtesy the artist and ACA Galleries, New York. © Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

“Through focused approaches to accessibility and design — including tiered reading levels, lower hanging heights, interactive drawing and reading spaces, and special programs—the exhibition highlights the museum as an intergenerational gathering place,” says Medvedow, “where visitors of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the critical pleasures of art, learning and reflection together.”

A series of public programs will accompany the show, including “Play Day” on Oct. 29 — a free, family-friendly open house complete with hands-on artmaking, storybook readings in the galleries and other activities to engage families with children under 12 in the work.

The description “childlike” has often been a negative artistic critique, implying that the work is thematically simplistic or lacking in technical experience. In “To Begin Again,” childhood and children are championed for their contributions to and influences on the art world in a refreshing new approach.