Artblog Celebrating 20 Years!   Support Us Today!

Weekly Update 2 – Cute is all around us


This week’s Weekly has my holiday roundup story on the cute in art. Below is the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr.

Aw-some Art
Devil monkeys, crocheted skulls and heartbreak made achingly sweet.

Cute is the current art darling, pushed mostly by young artists but also some midcareer folks like Jeff Koons, who knew before the rest of us that irony would one day turn stale. Koons’ Puppy—a massive Chia Pet seen ’round the world—was loved by the general public and art insiders alike. Its arrival signaled that cute puppies were in and sourpusses could take a hike.

Matthew Porter
Matthew Porter, Devil Monkey, from Art Star’s online shop.

Cute is hip. We can’t move for paintings, sculptures and depictions of animals, toys and children flush with pretty colors and nostalgia for simpler times. Fueled by underground comics and zines, children’s books and the ascendance of craft, embroidery and drawing, this stream of young art embraces magic and innocence and eschews psychological depths.

hand felted stockings by Supermaggie, at Art Star

Art Star Boutique has been surfing cute here in Philly since it opened. The forlorn children, cute animals and innocent creatures that appear in their exhibitions are affordable yummies that exist in a world that sticks a cute, furry finger up at the last 100 years of art history. This art’s ancestors are the Pre-Raphaelites, whose depictions of children, beautiful women, rainbows and bucolic England were early-Victorian cuteness incarnate.

Belle and Boo
Three ornaments by Belle and Boo at Art Star’s Holiday Bazaar. They are “Three Little Madam Angels” plush ornaments.

Art Star’s online store is full of affordable art, like Andrew Porter’s $20 monkey prints—small, matted and ready for framing. They show Paul Frank-like animals costumed as Batman, the devil, Mr. Spock and a host of other pop icons. The prints have a nice graphic sensibility and a sweetness that’s self-aware and comfortable. This is art suitable for youngsters, adolescents and anyone starting an art collection.

"Pelt" by Emily Barletta. This is included in her current solo exhibition, "My Biology" and it is crocheted yarn - 51 " x 38" x 2"
“Pelt” by Emily Barletta. This is included in her current solo exhibition, “My Biology” and it is crocheted yarn – 51 ” x 38″ x 2″

Art Star’s crocheted wall pieces by Brooklyn artist Emily Barletta are wonderful small works that reference nature and cells in a whimsical way, and their affordability (prices peak at $4,000, but some are in the $300 range) is inviting. The boutique’s upcoming holiday show will feature many cute items that could make smart presents.

Etsy, the online art community for showing and selling art, is also onboard with affordable DIY cute. A recent visit to the site turned up a crocheted dinosaur skull for $100 and a Darth Vader embroidered Christmas ornament for $5.95.

For someone who likes art but doesn’t know where to begin collecting, cute is a great, mistake-free and affordable introduction. Artists who make cute often have backgrounds in illustration and are accomplished in narrative depictions. Their works are nicely crafted, wall-ready (framed or matted) and for the most part, small and affordable. And collecting handmade art puts money in the hands of small local businesses and the artists themselves.

Cute art is gentle and self-absorbed. Sometimes it’s tinged with sadness and longing, but it’s always cute first.

Judith Schaechter
At her Best down on both knees, 25 x 23″ top x 19″ bottom 1997. stained glass. Image from the book Extra Virgin.

A hybrid stream of cute—one that puts psychological depths first and cute second—is apparent in the art of two outstanding woman artists, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and Philly’s Judith Schaechter. These two practitioners of scorched-earth cuteness use the tropes of cute (magic, fairy tales, the forlorn heroine) but take the plunge into sex and death, transgression and violence. This is cute that’s grown up.

Frida Kahlo
image 10: Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940
oil on canvas on Masonite
24-1/2 x 19 inches
Nikolas Muray Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin
© 2007 Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust. Av.
Cinco de Mayo No. 2, Col. Centro, Del. Cuauhtémoc 06059, México, D.F.

The traveling blockbuster exhibit “Frida Kahlo”—opening Feb. 20 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—is a wonderful opportunity to explore Kahlo’s salty ourvre. Meanwhile, the stained-glass art of Judith Schaechter can be seen close up in Schaechter’s book Extra Virgin, published by local publisher Free News Projects (founded by Space 1026’s Max Lawrence). This is an achingly beautiful coffeetable book with crisp, mouth-watering renditions of Schaechter’s art.

Kara Walker
You Do
Kara Walker, 1993/1994
cut paper on canvas , 55 x 49 in. (140 x 124.5 cm)
Collections of Peter Norton and Eileen Harris Norton, Santa Monica, California
Photo courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York

Art that takes cute to the next snarly level is practiced by international art star Kara Walker. Walker uses parody and satire to punch holes in cute. She uses the Victorian-era technique of cut-paper silhouettes to create sexy, scatological vignettes about slavery in the antebellum South. Her works are sly; they’re beautiful and accomplished but they sting. Their greatest asset is that they treat the past as a metaphor for the present and hit hard against the status quo. Walker’s message that we’re still paying for the legacy of slavery is bitter medicine delivered with sugar.

Jayson Scott Musson
Jayson Scott Musson, My Favorite White Rasta. Digital print, size variable.

Space 1026 member (and PW contributing writer) Jayson Scott Musson snarls like a caffeinated adolescent in his super-charged word art about race relations and relationships in general. Musson’s posters are like Walker’s art: Their bite is sharp and the message is: “No, mom, the kids are not okay.”

Art history giants like Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Renoir and van Gogh knew the importance of making pictures of lovely, cute things like babies and flowers. Not only do we love those things for real, but we love their representations and will happily put them on our walls. Cute might just be the universal antidote for what ails the world.

Emily Barletta: “My Biology”
Through Nov. 17. Art Star Gallery and Boutique, 1030 N. Second St., unit 301. 215.238.1557.


Extra Virgin: The Stained Glass of Judith Schaechter
Free News Projects. $65.95.

“Frida Kahlo”
Opens Tues., Feb. 20, 10am. $10-$14. Through May 18. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 26th St. and the Pkwy. 215.684.7931.

Jayson Scott Musson

Kara Walker, until Feb. 3, 2008, Whitney Museum.