The recently closed KidsBasel, a Miami Art Week show of the youngest and most brilliant child artists of today, was an astounding celebration of art made by children. In December 2019, a meticulously selected bunch of child art prodigies received massive praise as their nine solo collections left the public in awe. Aged from 9 to 15, these whizz-kids showcased their talent at the KidsBasel Pop-Up Museum, giving a whole new meaning to what art is.
Yung Lenox, Elisabeth Anisimow, Rodrigo Dyno Barrera, Koops, Brigerre Roseman, Andrea Zorilla, Aelita Andre, Jada and Elijah Mason - all different in style and bringing in a vast variety of influences - have all been revered as the most renowned young art prodigies. As their work becomes all the rage and is followed by imperishable media hype, the price of their art scarcely lags behind that of their adult fellow artists.
For art collectors, this unparalleled fascination creates an opportunity for the uncharted territory of child art to be further explored and invested in.
The dried out, Romantic understanding of child art is still taxing the art world. Many are still reluctant to give credit to child art beyond its oversimplified reduction to a passing phase that serves to express children’s innate, uncorrupted nature. This romanticized version of art haunted some of the greatest 20th-century artists that sought and eventually found inspiration in child art.
No wonder, then, that child art remains a contested turf. KidsBasel founder Ashley Sidman is all too aware of the ever-going disputes over child art emphasizing how these wunderkinder are oftentimes told that “they are just kids, not artists”. Reinforcing ageism of its own kind, some within the art world unfairly situated art and children in a stark opposition that mutually excludes any co-existence, let alone worthwhile combo. Unlike more, as it is commonly believed, conservative and rigid disciplines of math or chess, art more shyly embraced and celebrated its prodigies. Could it be perhaps that it is harder to draw the line (no pun intended) between a merely gifted child and a prodigy in disciplines that are more objective and measurable?
Those still in a mild discomfort about child art but exercising an admirable effort to grasp the phenomenon should be advised to stay away from biographical anecdotes. It would hardly help if they knew that Aelita Andre, one of the stars of KidsBasel, did her first painting when she was only nine months old. Could it be that Aelita’s unrivaled talent pushed her to paint before she could walk? If this didn’t already cause some raised eyebrows, try this - Aelita exhibited her art at 22 months of age, amassing a fairly decent collection by that time. While there are disciplines more welcoming to their young prodigies, not a single one can boast with such an immediate expression of genius.
As dilemmas and controversies around child art flourish, art collectors are already heading to this uncharted territory. Many of them are on the lookout for the next La Picador that Pablo Picasso completed as a nine-year-old. For many investing in child art, this is a quest to the most profitable of all the prospects. However, they need to be humbly reminded that Picasso did not start selling his art for big bucks.
Art collectors, like other humans, are not immune to media puff that turns art prodigies into media darlings. Being able to differentiate between pompous headlines and more critical voices can save a yet-unconvinced art collector both time and money. But money should not be the only concern that makes you seal the deal. If you are solely driven to make a profit, stocks and bonds may serve as a better, and certainly a more secure option. A bare understanding of how much goes to galleries and overhead costs will persuade any serious art collector that child art is not quick cash.
For art collectors, all set and firm to invest in child art, some obstacles will inevitably go to pop up on their way. There are still very few child artists in spite of the pervasive belief that everyone can do it. But this is not all. Many will in a few years’ time trade painting off for the next new hobby or simply be bored to keep it as prolific as usual. This is when something as dreadful as children’s exploitation may be added to the equation as parents’ support slides into coercion. How far art collectors are willing to accept to protect their investment as most buy child art expecting these kids to grow up into valuable artists.
As child art is increasingly expanding, art collectors are still calculating the risk. While the risk analysis often resembles a maze of blurry arguments, two opposed crowds remain polarized.
For those championing investing in child art, it is self-evident that child art is like any other form of art. Should the age of an artist affect someone’s judgment as it would their ethnicity or gender or any alike characteristics for that matter? Nikki Kalashnikova, mother of Aelita Andre, was aware of the problem when she approached the curator declaring that her daughter is a female artist and omitting to disclose her age. Emphasizing that she wanted her daughter to be judged upon her merit not her age, she vividly illustrated her argument by adding “You never walk into a gallery and say, this artist is 24 and this one is 84”. However, some art collectors are looking to benefit the artist’s age and look to invest in an emerging artist who is yet to harvest fame. And there are some risks inseparably connected with a tender age of art prodigies.
Marla Olmstead’s story a cautionary tale for all the art world, not only art collectors. As the documentary My Kid Could Paint That revealed, once widely acclaimed art prodigy Marla Olmstead was less of a wunderkind she was thought to be. After CBS crew were allowed to place cameras in Marla’s home different opinions on her art have resurfaced. Not only Marla lacked passion and infatuation that her parents claimed, but it seems that her father did some extra help. Her reputation was damaged and she was soon to become a poor investment. For this reason, many collectors are nurturing reluctance that will save them for alike hoaxes.
Featured image: A Child Artist, via KidsBasel.