In the years immediately following the Great Depression, Americans of all ages participated in the Federal Art Project, an initiative affiliated with the Works Progress Administration that offered free arts education to the public. Now, 12 works created by children at community art centers in New York City in the 1930s as part of that program are going on view at the Outsider Art Fair in New York, which opens January 16.
The paintings that will be featured in the fair come from the Kuniyoshi Collection, which currently belongs to the Children’s Museum of the Arts in New York. The 19 pieces that make up the collection were gifted to the institution in the early 1990s by Sara Mazo Kuniyoshi, the widow of the photographer, painter, printmaker, and educator Yasuo Kuniyoshi. Though it’s unknown whether Yasuo Kuniyoshi taught the artists who made the works headed to the Outsider Art Fair, he worked as a teacher at the New School for Social Research and the Art Students League of New York during the 1930s.
The CMA’s exhibition at the Outsider Art Fair, titled “From the Perspective of a Child,” marks the institution’s first curated presentation at an art fair. Additionally, the museum has not previously loaned works from the Kuniyoshi Collection to other organizations.
In an interview with ARTnews, Jil Weinstock, curator and artistic director at the CMA, said that Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s experience as a Japanese immigrant in America and his dedication to arts education is particularly relevant “in terms of where we are at, globally, with immigration and borders.”
“What I love about [the history of the collection] is that that particular program offered free arts education to people of all ages,” Weinstock said. “It was a really nice connection to what the CMA is trying to do now in the year 2020 and what was happening during the 1930s.”
Rebecca Hoffman, director of the Outsider Art Fair, told ARTnews that the fair’s collaboration with the CMA “couldn’t be more of a synergistic relationship.”
“From the Perspective of a Child,” which will be the Outsider Art Fair’s largest presentation dedicated to children’s art to date, follows similar exhibitions staged in recent years at White Columns and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in New York, where the Bay Area psychologist and nursery school director Rhoda Kellogg’s vast collection of children’s drawings were on view in 2019 and 2017, respectively.
“I really believe in utilizing the fair as a springboard to champion institutions that we align with,” Hoffman said. “The work that these children created during Works Progress Administration is timely and present, and holds the passage of time in a very interesting capacity.”