My favorite gallery visitors are kids—the younger, the better. With enthusiasm, delight and open eyes, they see a lot. Adults (yes, I’m included) tend to over-think art. We might want to make an historical connection, talk in terms defined by art critics, or question the methods and materials. Trust me, after owning a gallery for a long time, I’ve had a lot of conversations about art with gallery visitors.
But I’ve seldom seen adults take sheer delight in art the way that lots of kids do. There have been some truly memorable times. I recalled a few recently. One day, a little girl came and responded to the color in an exhibition by Betty Woodman. She seemed moved, to the point of singing. Then I realized that she was dressed in the same colors as the art, and those colors were her favorites.
Another time, during a show by Adrian Saxe, two boys bounded in to the gallery and exclaimed “Look Mom! Aladdin’s Lamp! Let’s make a wish.” Indeed, make a few wishes boys, I thought. Unprompted, they understood that the exhibition was all about desire in contemporary culture, and that the artist was presenting a series of Magic Lamps, titled “Wish I may, Wish I might”. While critics saw scatological references, and ceramists focused on the unorthodox use of plastic toys, those two boys nailed the essence of the show.
Certainly one of my favorites was during our show of works by French sculptor Georges Jeanclos, several years ago. Visitors would bring their families, because the extremely touching terra cotta figures evoked a sense of primal, shared human experience. One day, the door opened and two girls walked in with their mother. Sensing the fragility of the work, their mother calmly said, “Now look with your eyes and not with your hands. Tell me what you see.”
The older girl, about seven years old, said “I see two people in a boat,” to which the mother replied, “And where are they going in that boat?”
“They’re going to heaven,” said the girl.
I was knocked out by that distilled view of the work. After all, the Jeanclos piece was titled “Barque” and was made by the artist in response to his mother’s death.
Today I read another statement by artist Larry Bell, and it seems to fit here:
“I wish all of my audience could be kids. The kids who come in the studio have quite a different reaction to the presence of the place and the projects than the older people who come in.”