‘MIR Space Station in Cherry Blossoms' and other paintings by two-year-old artist Aelita Andre

Art Press Release from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Tuesday 20 January 2009.

Artwork by two-year-old artist Andre Aelita image

There is a moment in the film Six Degrees of Separation when Flan Kitteredge, a wealthy, Central Park-dwelling art collector played by Donald Sutherland reflects on a visit to his child's second grade class room.

Looking at the children’s artwork hanging from the walls he is in awe of what he sees. “Why are all your students geniuses?” He asks the teacher. “Look at the first grade – blotches of green and black. The third grade – camouflage. But your grade, the second grade…Matisses, every one. You’ve made my child a Matisse. Let me study with you. Let me into the second grade. What is your secret?” The teacher replies “I don’t have any secret. I just know when to take their drawings away from them.”

Last Friday, Soulcatcher x 3, a group exhibition featuring the work of photographers Julia Palenov and Nikka Kalashnikova, opened at Brunswick Street Gallery. Also exhibiting in the same show was Aelita Andre, Kalashnikova’s two year-old daughter. Because everyone loves a good child prodigy story, the press in Australia have been all over this one. Many opinions have been voiced including those of Aelita’s parents, Brunswick Street Gallery owner Mark Jamieson, Age art critic Robert Nelson, and the usual gaggle of bloggers and news forum members.

Most of the attention has focused on the fact that, at the time he committed to exhibiting Andre’s paintings, Jamieson was not aware he was advertising the work of a toddler; and the question of whether or not Andre’s work contains more artistic merit than any other haphazard splatters created by any other two-year-old. (To spare us rehashing the whole who said what you can read the full story here http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2009/01/07/1231004105005.html).

Seven of Andre’s paintings sold prior to the opening for prices her parents will only confirm as being within the range of the $350-$2000 previously quoted in The Age. The acrylic on canvas works were created after Andre’s father recognised “a defined representation of something in an abstract form” in the drawings she was bringing home from playgroup. While titles such as ‘Grasshoppers Fighting’, ‘Eagle’, and ‘MIR Space Station in Cherry Blossoms,’ are a clearly visible interpretation of the abstract images in Andre’s paintings, one hesitates to presume the titles were bestowed on the work by the artist herself. It is this part of the story that conjures up Flan Kitteredge and the question of what makes talent, particularly in children, when basic but crucial elements such as knowing when to stop or what it is you are attempting to convey may not be part of the conscious process of the artist.

Whether you’re the sort of person for whom this story gives rise to a number of questions about meaning within abstract art, who determines it and how; or you’re just in the market for a cute dinner party conversation that goes with your couch, Soulcatcher x 3 is on at Brunswick Street Gallery until January 29.

- Kate Harris