Kidspace dazzles all ages

There aren’t many art museums in which one can find a gallery devoted entirely to a cohort of visitors young enough that they must constantly be told, “Don’t touch!” Yet from the colorfully patterned pillows on the floor to the tables full of crayons and art supplies to the exhibitions themselves, MASS MoCA’s Kidspace is a veritable wonderland for the younger generation. Kidspace will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday, March 20, with a day full of festivities and prizes to kick off the Delectable Decades exhibit featuring 14 previous Kidspace artists.

Walking into Kidspace is a pleasure for adults and children alike, as visitors are greeted by three floor-to-ceiling mobiles of colorful fluttering butterflies. Upon closer inspection, one discovers that the butterflies are all candy wrappers – the work of Luisa Caldwell in “Candy Wrapper Curtain.” Recognizing the simple material does not detract from, but rather adds to, the appeal of the swaying mobiles that any fanciful child would want in her room.

The current Kidspace exhibit is titled You Art What You Eat, and features the work of five artists who turn food into art. Chandra Bocci’s “Coral Reef” graces the windowsills, transforming ice cream cones, cereal, candy corn and even some stuffed animals into the greens, pinks and yellow hues and textures of coral and algae. Across the room, Bocci’s “Gummi Big Bang” uses gummy worms, tarantulas and sharks in a three-dimensional burst of color that explodes in blues and purples across the room from the central ball of reds and yellows. The room resounds with the awed “wowww”s of a pair of pre-school girls soon joined by their mother’s cautioning, “Don’t get too close.”

The remainder of the Kidspace gallery is filled with the food art of other artists: Caldwell’s “Still Life with Skull” and “Hydrangea Aegnardyh” are brightly colored paintings that use fruit stickers to create flowers; Liz Hickok’s “The White House” features a number of detailed Jell-O molds of the presidential residence; Joan Steiner’s construction projects create miniature architecture – “Leaning Tower of Pisa,” “Taj Mahal” and “Sydney Opera House” – out of cookies, pistachio shells, brussels sprouts and more; Saxton Freeman’s work is featured on a wall hung with photographs of food sculpture – a poodle made of broccoli and a fish made of lettuce and peppers, among others.

Part of the goal of Kidspace is to allow children to interact with, discuss, learn from and create art. On the side of the gallery with arts and craft tables, posters featuring a food item and a number of plastic spoons invite children to “check out how many teaspoons of sugar can be found in some the artists’ materials.”

According to Laura Thompson, Kidspace director of exhibitions and education, interdisciplinary learning is an important part of the Kidspace mission. Kidspace works with elementary schools around the area, bringing classes of pre-K through eighth grade students into the gallery for programs and also sending artists to do residencies within the schools. An average class visit to the gallery lasts about two hours, according to Thompson, during which the children discuss the art and the artists’ choices before having a chance to create something themselves.

In Thompson’s mind, providing children with access to art is an important aspect. “It changes children’s lives when we can bring this caliber of artwork to them,” Thompson said. “When they come to Kidspace they can think outside the box. They’re encouraged to voice their opinions, and they’re not forced into meeting certain rules. It can be a cathartic release for students and teachers.”
Saturday’s events will be a celebration of all that Kidspace has achieved in the 10 years since it opened its doors at MASS MoCA as a collaborative effort between MASS MoCA, the Clark and the Williams College Museum of Art. The activities of the day will invite children and families to take part in a cupcake-making competition; to listen to a performance by Ken Butler, who makes his own musical instruments; to view the Delectable Decades exhibit; and to participate in an auction to benefit Kidspace that will feature the work of the Delectable Decades artists.

Delectable Decades will include works such as Victoria Palermo’s rubber trees, a massive metal heart by Richard Criddle and a giant painting by Emily Cheng, among many others. The exhibit will be open in Kidspace until the middle of October.

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