Ah, the art world: where you never have to grow up. At least that’s what a person might assume, given the relentless popularity of youth culture as a subject in contemporary art. That’s what led curator Zoë Chan to put together an exhibit on the topic, Kids these days, opening Saturday at MSVU Art Gallery.
Many of the works take a documentary approach to the theme, and Chan noticed later that a common thread throughout the eight artists’ pieces was teenagers’ forms of self-expression. “The works span the 2000s,” she says, “which allows for a project like Kyla Mallett’s ‘Notes’ series of close-up photos of notes written by teens in a pre-texting era, to Sarah Febbraro’s video ‘Minor Threats,’ which includes clips from YouTube of young women playing guitar solos at home.”
Of the eight artists in the show, seven are women. Chan says this wasn’t a conscious decision, but she was likely subconsciously attracted to works featuring young women; she noticed only after the fact. “Obviously, there are so many exhibitions that include mostly male artists and it’s not mentioned, so I was very happy to reverse that ratio,” she says. With so many grown artists dwelling on the theme of youth, is it possible for adults to reliably engage with youth culture as their teenage years get further behind them?
“I think the artists were aware of the gap between themselves and their subjects and concerned with representing them in a way that’s not exploitative,” Chan says. “The topic of youth with its popular associations with the characteristics of freedom, creativity and authenticity is a compelling one for many of the artists who are looking for those same things in their own practices.”