Exhibition titles are crafted to encapsulate evocative meaning as descriptors of content. Newport Art Museum’s appropriation of Bob Dylan’s song title of “Forever Young” is intended to maximize the sensory impact of a show about childhood and adolescence. “Forever Young: Representations of Childhood and Adolescence,” the museum’s current exhibition, is a massive survey across two buildings and shown in multiple gallery rooms. It is a comprehensive exploration perhaps with too much included, but the museum has a large board of trustees with diverse interests and the show can be seen in deference to that fact by relating a something-for-everyone strategy.
A suggestion for audiences to rein in the exhibit visually is to start at the museum’s John N.A. Griswold House, then step outside for a break before continuing onward for the rest of the show next door in the museum’s Cushing/Morris Gallery. “Forever Young: Representations of Childhood and Adolescence” can actually be appreciated the same one would approach attending Art Basel Miami Beach Week. It is helpful to have a break for breathing space, luncheon or social time at the midpoint to avoid overload. Others may want to quickly scan the show’s contemporary elements, predominantly photographic imagery, then retrench to look closely at the historical artworks that might be of special interest to them.
Newport is known as a summer playground of the rich and has a thriving tourist industry throughout the year. In October, it hosted “Audrain’s Newport Concours and Motor Week” and the Porsche franchise at that time occupied Newport Art Museum’s front lawn. Lamborghini had an outpost nearby. November and December will likely also be choreographed in some way. A visit to the museum in late autumn or December is apropos because that time of year can be ripe for contemplation.
“Forever Young: Representations of Childhood and Adolescence” is curated by Newport Art Museum’s Francine Weiss. The show reveals her interest in large print photography and the museum’s extensive collections. There are a few installations in this show, but overall, it is weighted toward color photography in relation to artworks from the museum’s permanent collection or pieces borrowed from other institutions. Exhibited alongside photos are paintings, drawings and prints. The large print color photography of the show seems to operate above a substrate of predominantly historical artworks. The phenomenon of attention grabbing can be attributed to the vibrancy of the photographs and their large size, which attracts the eye more than the tones of directly applied mediums that are simply of a subtler nature.
Audiences deeply connected to their smart devices may find that the historical artworks in this show take longer to absorb. It is worthwhile to give them time to be felt. Mary Stuart, the sister of the colonial painter Gilbert Stuart, has a lovely portrait of a mother and child in this show, which communicates a fascinating slice-oflife around the time of our nation’s birth. Mary Stuart’s portrait painting illustrates that there can be a century or more of difference in this exhibit between individual artworks placed side-by-side. Incidentally, Gilbert Stuart’s Rhode Island birthplace is open to the public and is very close to the Newport area in Saunderstown. “Forever Young” as a show concept relates content as if a romantic anthem of sorts and expresses the notion of childhood and adolescence as intrinsically fleeting or ephemeral.
The exhibit is described as exploring “family, children at play, emerging identities, childhood constructed, social portraits, children alone, children with animals and memory/nostalgia.” The show is layered for audiences to see content relationally.
Regarding photos, UK artist Siân Davey’s color photography of her daughter “Alice” probes the very personal and universal subject of psychological attachment. In this series, the artist is visually and emotionally absorbing qualities about her daughter Alice, born with Down syndrome. For Davey, the work became a remedy against pulling away from the child. Davey describes feeling guilty knowing Alice sensed her coldness.
The series contains portraits of Alice as an individual,which simultaneously deal with Davey finding herself as a mother. In all the photos Alice is shown wearing a Shetland sweater, as if to convey applied warmth. In “Godmother,” 2015, Alice is with her godmother outside. They are pictured surrounded by actual and painted flowers. There is an effervescence of mauves and pinks about this photograph in which information emerges and recedes with a kind of atmospheric joy reminiscent of the flowers of Odilon Redon and paintings by Raoul Dufy.
Photographer Lucas Foglia’s “The Garden” project is displayed at junctures throughout this show. Rania Matar’s Baryta archival pigment prints from the series “A Girl and Her Room” are included. Both artists are represented by Robert Klein Gallery in Boston, which is known for its excellent photography.