Child’s Play: Artist-Parents Blend Work and Home in “Dual Roles”

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Not since its exuberant exhibitions of Nathan Sawaya’s LEGO sculptures has Hollywood’s Art and Culture Center looked so decked out for pint-sized patrons. One of the first things you see upon entering the main gallery is an inflatable flamingo pool raft on a pad of AstroTurf, bedecked with pillows and a blanket. Children are welcome to lounge on it while their parents browse the art on the walls and floor, inviting participation and fostering play.

That sense of whimsy percolates through other works as well, from Leah Brown’s “Exquisites II (cougar, deer, bobcat),” a sculpture of plush animals crowding the backside of larger one in a communal diorama; to Jen Clay’s “Your Best Friends,” a pink girls’ hideaway and kinetic fantasyland made from mixed media, felt, wire and a working motor that is, perhaps, more Adult Swim than Nickelodeon, but close enough.

Jen Clay's "Your Best Friends"
Jen Clay’s “Your Best Friends”

These are a few of the 31 artist-parents comprising “Dual Roles,” a summer exhibition that is unabashedly kid-friendly without sacrificing the Center’s intellectual pedigree. In fact, it makes the point that child-rearing and art-making are anything but separate, and that the former certainly doesn’t hinder the latter. Not all of the works directly address parenthood—some speak to underappreciated domestic rigors more generally—but many of its most poignant, witty and insightful works meditate on child-raising through paint and wire, felt and lenses.

Brenda Ann Keanneally’s C-prints, for instance, showcase her children’s rooms in states of post-apocalyptic disarray—which is to say, normal kids’ bedrooms. In one, her child lies dormant on the carpet with a newspaper’s funny pages covering his head and SpongeBob beckoning from a boxy TV perched precariously on a chair. Nearby, there’s a dismembered doll part and, most amusingly, an ashtray and empty 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew—holdovers from a college dorm, perhaps. (Nearby, curator Laura Marsh astutely hangs an untitled oil painting by Harumi Abe, depicting a mother napping on a chair with a newspaper draped over her head, mirroring the Keanneally image.)

Sally Mann's "Hot Dog"
Sally Mann’s “Hot Dog”

There is palpable affection in Sally Mann’s “The Hot Dog,” a loving portrait of her son and pup whiling away a lazy day, and in Alice Neel’s “Nancy and Olivia,” a lithograph of a penetrating, wide-eyed mother and her equally direct baby. Dago Orozco’s “Tatiana of the Wasps,” the exhibition’s requisite home movie, delightfully elevates a little girl’s backyard frolicking to epic heights with a symphonic soundtrack. “Untitled (Stickers),” by Peggy Levison Nolan, an overhead photograph of her children, one of whom is emblazoning her legs with stickers, channels the singular abandon of childhood. But not all underage subjects enjoy this freedom: Nearby, Colby Katz’s photos of child beauty-pageant competitors, none of whom look happy, potently condemn an archaic industry that is, thankfully, in its death spiral.

From Colby Katz's "Darling Divas" series
From Colby Katz’s “Darling Divas” series

Other highlights of “Dual Roles” include Marina Font’s “The Evolution of Womankind,” a clever, elliptical and borderline-voyeuristic study of feminine growth as explained through underwear and a clothesline; Alissa Alfonso’s imaginative “Mattress Spring Pickerel Weed,” which envisions a fabric flowerbed sprouting from upcycled mattress springs; and samples from Francie Bishop Good’s enduring “Carly” photography series, which depict her niece growing up in an environment mediated by unhealthy television and pop culture. Visitors to the museum can leave with a free hardback copy of Good’s photography collection Carly, So Far, one of three takeaways from this generous exhibit.

Clifton and Wally Childree's "Jubilee Bell"
Clifton and Wally Childree’s “Jubilee Bell”

Then there’s Clifton Childree’s “Jubilee Bell,” which has a unique place in the exhibition. It’s a window frame rotting from faux-neglect, like something out of a third-world country—its paint peeling, its reclaimed wood chipped and splintered. But what makes the piece extra-special is that Clifton’s son Wally is listed as a co-creator; it’s the only selection in “Dual Roles” explicitly credited to a child.

Where children are often excluded from the artistic process, Childree brought his in. For South Florida artists, this may be the ultimate potential of a “take your child to work” day: hatching new artists.

“Dual Roles” runs through Aug. 19 at Art and Culture Center, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Admission costs $7 adults and $4 students, seniors and children. Call 954/921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org.