Lucien Smith was only in his early twenties when his “Rain Paintings” became art-market gold. But at KidsBasel, the talent is even younger. This unsanctioned companion event to Art Basel Miami Beach features art stars aged 9 to 15—although their prices are more grown-up, ranging from $1,000 to a whopping $75,000 for a work by Elisabeth Anisimow, 13, perhaps the most celebrated artist of the bunch.
“How do you get people to take it seriously?” ponders Ashley Sidman, founder of KidsBasel (now in its second year), when I reach her by phone just before the opening. “There’s some backlash. They’re told all the time that they’re just kids, not artists. But they don’t need to be talked down to; they understand that. So when we told them we wanted to take them seriously, it’s not like I had to explain it to any of them.”
In total, nine artists—Yung Lenox, Anisimow, Aelita Andre, Rodrigo “Dyno” Barrera, Brigette Roseman, Andrea Zorilla, and Jada and Elijah Mason—will show works in separate galleries at the former Rubell Family Collection building in the Wynwood District of Miami. Works will range from prints capturing Anisimow’s “live paintings,” where she camouflages people against painted backgrounds (the young artist won’t be in attendance, as she’s also presenting work at Hong Kong’s K11 Art Mall); Barrera’s abstract art paintings, some of which bear a resemblance to Katherine Bernhardt’s work; and Yung Lenox’s drawings of rappers on paper.
“Elisabeth [Anisimow] is doing these incredible giclee prints,” says Sidman. “You’ll be floored that these are real people that are in these paintings. You should see what she does with gouache. When you see them, you’ll say, ‘These are things that when I go into the Louvre, I’m going to see there.’ They’re pretty shocking.”
Sidman says it’s her job to make sure people do take this show seriously. She tells me that she’s confirmed Peter Tenney from Wynwood Walls will be there and that the Rubells “are planning on stopping by.” And of course, Jada and Elijah’s father, former NBA player and prominent art collector Desmond Mason, will attend. (Desmond Mason is an artist in his own right, having sold work to George Clooney, says Sidman.)
KidsBasel is a curious venture. There are plenty of prodigies when it comes to mathematics, chess, or music. Sure, Picasso’s father famously quit painting after witnessing his 13-year-old son’s technique. But generally, in the art world, a certain amount of seniority rules. All nine of the artists showing here exist outside of traditional gallery models, and maybe that’s a good thing.
“Yung Lenox hasn’t had a show in four years,” explains Sidman about the now-13-year-old who was profiled in dozens of publications, from The Guardian to NME to Vice, when he was 9. “He took a break from the spotlight. He went to Japan and it was overwhelming. He wanted to take the pressure off. It’s easy for these kids to feel overworked, and he just wanted to chill. When you’re 7 or 8, and it’s no longer fun, then the artwork suffers.”
Plus, parents can start to see dollar signs. It’s why KidsBasel makes it their mission to make sure the kids come first. “The art world is like any business,” says Sidman. “They’re on YouTube, getting interviews—it gets confusing. ‘Are you my parent, or my manager?’”
Plus, says Sidman, the kids don’t normally have a chance to interact with other artists their own age—most of their peers don’t even really understand what they’re doing.
“They literally come into the install and instead of looking at their own work first, they look at the other kids’ [work]. ‘I love that piece; I love her style’—they complement each other. They exchange Instagrams, and they start to build this community and a following together.”
Sidman says she approaches KidsBasel like its own agency representing young artists. She has floated the idea of opening a gallery in a more permanent space. But for now, she’s focused on her artists, and this year’s edition of KidsBasel, which she says might travel to Hong Kong next.
“We do what they want, and we make sure they’re doing what they want,” she adds. “We’re just their crew. As long as the goal is there’s a sense of achievement and happiness, and it doesn’t become profit-driven, then we’re doing it right.”
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