Almost Warm and Fuzzy: Childhood and Contemporary Art

February 4–April 8, 2001

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents Almost Warm & Fuzzy: Childhood and Contemporary Art, an exhibition that includes more than 30 American and international contemporary artists who address the relationship between childhood and art through intriguing and playful artwork. Initially organized by the Des Moines Art Center, the exhibition comprises some forty works, including paintings, sculptures, and installations. The works explore various views of childhood—a mix of innocence and nostalgia, comic-strip heroes and science fiction, fairy tales, and computer games.

Almost Warm & Fuzzy includes works by Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Tom Friedman, Takashi Murakami, Maria Fernanda Cardoso, Jeff Koons, Laurie Simmons, Kim Dingle, and Mike Kelley.

Almost Warm & Fuzzy presents various possibilities for inscribing the childhood experience in the work of contemporary artists. Many of the works in the exhibition explore how ordinary objects are transformed by the vivid imagination of children and how these faculties later influence our interpretation of art as adults. Sandy Skoglund's jelly-bean laden landscape Shimmering Madness and Tom Friedman's laundry detergent sculpture Untitled (Snow Angel) reflect the vivid sensations of taste, touch, and smell in childhood and how children (and adults) create fantasies out of ordinary objects.

For children the realization of reality is frequently as intriguing as fantasy. In The Big Sneeze, The Art Guys focus on the physical reality of the body and children's fascination with the gradual discovery of its functions. The gigantic nose sculpture duplicates the act of sneezing (including an explosive liquid and an audio component), graphically magnifying this common physical experience.

Childhood fantasy extends into cartoons and related media that play a dominant role in the lives of most children. Such imagery is not just entertainment, but in fact comprises much of their visual experience and their expectations about the world. As Takashi Murakami's balloons, Mr. DOB and Yoshitomo Nara's masks, The Little Pilgrims (Five Heads) suggest cartoons are double-edged: what is adorable and comical can also be strangely frightening.

Several works also address children's physical perception of the world. By playing with the scale of realistic objects, artists reflect on the mysterious and daunting feeling of being small. The adult-size chair at Laura Whipple's Tea Party and the giant boots in Daniel Oates So He Decided to Take (a Nap) are sympathetic, literal expressions of the obstacles that children encounter as they attempt to reconcile their own physicality with their surroundings.

The exhibition may appear whimsical, yet, a closer look reveals a subtly off-register feeling that is not completely "warm and fuzzy." Despite its innocence and pleasures, childhood can also be a time of transition and uncertainty. Mike Kelley's placement of a stuffed toy rabbit and pesticides on an afghan for Arena #11 reflects the elements associated with this tension. With each work that references the familiar, an undercurrent of awkwardness and uncertainty inherent in the transition from child to adult and the existing dynamic between the age groups is soon revealed.

 

Almost Warm & Fuzzy: Childhood and Contemporary Art was organized for the Des Moines Art Center by its director, Susan Lubowsky Talbott, and its former research curator, Lea Rosson DeLong. The exhibition is circulated by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. Major funders of the exhibition are Suydam R. and Gerrit L. Lansing, Roberta and Howard Ahmanson, Greater Des Moines Foundation, Maddie Levitt, and the Meredith Corporation. Additional funding for the exhibition comes from The Bright Foundation, Commercial Federal Bank, Iowa Arts Council, and Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., and generous contributions from Des Moines Art Center Trustees.

The children's activity book for the traveling exhibition is funded by a grant from the Ida and William Rosenthal Foundation.