Art Exhibition Gives New Meaning to the Phrase ‘My Kid Could’ve Done That’

Curator Will Cooper and his 5-year-old daughter, Astrid, invited 15 British artists and their children to contribute original artworks

A pale, red-headed girl with bangs smiles and holds a piece of paper in front of herself, with what looks like a drawing of a person's smiling face and orange curly hair
Five-year-old Astrid Cooper poses with one of her artworks. Astrid co-curated an upcoming exhibition at the Edge arts center in Bath, England, with her father, Will. Courtesy of Will Cooper / Holburne Museum

Like many adults with young kids at home, British curator Will Cooper found himself struggling to balance his job with child care during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eventually, Cooper decided to embrace the challenge, inviting his 5-year-old daughter, Astrid, to co-curate an exhibition with him, as Mark Brown reported for the Guardian in April. The show’s cheeky title—“My Kid Could’ve Done That!”—pokes fun at a common critique leveled against abstract artists like Cy Twombly or Jackson Pollock.

Per a statement from the Holburne Museum in Bath, where Cooper serves as a curator of contemporary art, the father-daughter pair paid “Zoom studio visits” to 15 artists from across the U.K., inviting participants to contribute art alongside their children. The resulting works will go on display at the University of Bath’s Edge arts center, which recently entered a partnership with the Holburne, on September 18.

Astrid hasn’t helped much with paperwork or loan requests, her father jokes, but she is enthusiastic about making her own artwork to contribute to the show. Attendees at the private viewing will also be met with a tower of Tunnock’s Teacakes, per Astrid’s request.

“I’m really looking forward to deciding where the art goes,” Astrid tells the Guardian’s Tim Jonze. “And I’ve really enjoyed working with Daddy too!”

Though the tone of the show is lighthearted, Cooper emphasizes that it isn’t meant to be “cutesy.”

“There is a layer of the show which is joy and fun and messiness and eccentricity and lack of rules that come with making stuff with your kids,” he told Brown in April. “But underneath that there is an important, I think, socio-political conversation about what we expect creative people to be able to do and what we expect parents and predominantly mothers to do.”

Participants in the exhibition include multimedia artist Harriet Bowman and her son Len, who created a large-scale wallpaper that will cover the back of the gallery. On the wallpaper, Bowman has listed the many challenges of working from home, including “work being broken, his tantrums, my embarrassment and shame, prams fitting in lifts, lifts being out of service, constant tidying [and] going to meetings with leaking breasts,” as she tells Jonze.

Artist Kate Owens, meanwhile, has created a work that incorporates her daughter Trudy’s love of mazes. Yu-Chen Wang and her partner Andro Semeiko have collaborated with their daughter Lilly. The trio’s interactive installation will reflect Lilly’s identity as a trilingual person who speaks Taiwanese (her mother’s heritage), Georgian (her father’s) and English.

This is far from the first time that children have displayed their creations alongside their parents’ work. Wendy Red Star, a Native American artist who grew up on the Apsáalooke (Crow) reservation in Montana, had a similar idea while preparing for a solo exhibition in Portland, Oregon, in 2014. The artist gave her daughter—then 7-year-old Beatrice Red Star Fletcher—Xeroxed portraits of members of the 1880 Crow Peace Delegation to play with while she worked. Red Star used the portraits to create her own artwork.

“A few minutes later, Bea came back to my desk, and she plopped down one of the Xerox photos of the chiefs that she had colored all over the top of,” Red Star recalled in a 2018 interview with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Morgan Mentzer. “It was beautiful and free, and everything I needed to help round out the show.”

Red Star incorporated her daughter’s work into the Portland show and continues to exhibit as a mother-daughter duo with the now-14-year-old Beatrice.

“I want Beatrice to have confidence and to own her power,” Red Star said in 2018. “Those are the tools that I’d like her to have in anything that she does.”