When Alice fell down the rabbit hole, she entered a wonderland filled with strange creatures, fabulous sights and unexpected adventures. The experience is really not unlike entering the new building of the Young at Art Museum (a $500,000 Knight Arts grantee) in Davie, an exciting, multi-sensory trip no matter what age you are. There are several permanent exhibition rooms, a traveling art exhibit, artwork from prominent artists scattered throughout the 55,000 square-foot, LEED-certified space, and tons of workshop rooms.
The permanent Wonderscapes exhibit, in fact, is designed around Alice’s adventure. A giant teacup and tea-party table, designed by illustrator DeLoss McGraw, make up some of the soft-material accoutrements set up for the under-five-years-old crowd. The Greenscapes “gallery,” on the other hand, might appeal to a little older group, as it has a focus on earthwork artists and environmental issues. The materials here encourage art-making that remains true to conservation and recycling techniques. Miami’s chief puppeteer, artist Pablo Cano, who makes his astounding marionettes from recycled and found items, has created a Pablo’s Magical Workshop & Theater here.
In the Culturescapes section, artists from across the globe have added their specific marks in a sophisticated and delightful way. There’s the mystical, almost ephemeral works in one corner from Haitian Edouard Duval Carrie, who also was awarded a Knight Arts Challenge grant for this work at the Young at Art Museum. There’s a full-scale hut and instruments from African-born Chesseko Konowe, who also performs music, and a “kitchen” corner with designs from Japanese artist Kenichi Yokona, along with a large installation from Cuban-born Leonel Matheu.
If you couldn’t tell already, this children’s art museum is unique. Although stuffed with interactive items and spaces, it is the opposite of gimmicky, and it does not dumb down its mission. The sense of art history is pervasive (you’ll recognize the young artists’ renderings of famous paintings in the Portrait Gallery). Rather than shying away from what even big people sometimes find intimidating, the museum wants kids to have fun with concepts such as Dada, Surrealism, Impressionism or conceptual and contemporary art.
To further an appreciation of the latter, just last Friday the first changing exhibition opened in the Knight Gallery, featuring a number of well-known South Florida artists (YAA moved into its handsome new building, connected to the Broward County Library, in 2012).
What’s great about this inaugural exhibit is that none of the works were created as “children’s art.” Once again, the museum is treating young people as curious minds in growing bodies, who don’t need to be talked down to. They, like their parents, might like Pepe Mar’s psychedelic-colored, anthropomorphic collaged statues because they are immediately compelling, and fun, to look at. They might appreciate the pop references in these works titled “Who Needs Guitars Anymore?”, or the myriad materials used to create these weird creatures. Another artist like Mar represented at Miami’s David Castillo Gallery, Jillian Mayer, has work here but also a permanent video in another gallery, as does Francesco Lo Castro. Recent New World grad Jessica Laino has created a sand sculpture similar to a Mandela on the floor, and a young Broward County artist Ben Morey has installed a “FunVision” set as an introduction to the exhibit. The back wall is covered in artworks from numerous artists, including Clifton Childree, Michelle Weinberg and Francie Bishop Good to name just a few.
This exhibit would hold up in any respectable gallery or institution in South Florida, but fortunately it is positioned, along with all the other quality offerings at this museum, to reach out and grab a truly new generation.
Young at Art Museum is open daily, 751 S.W. 121st Ave., Davie; for times, details about classes and exhibits, go to www.youngartmuseum.org.
Photo credit for exhibit: Darryl Nobles