The Children's Museum of the Arts—one of our favorite art spots in the city for kids—turns 25 this year, and it's marking the milestone in two big ways: with its fifth annual Around the World multicultural series, which kicked off last weekend with the Lunar New Year Festival, and with "Face to Face," a new exhibition celebrating children's self-expression that opened on February 7. The show offers a fresh glimpse inside the Children's Museum of the Arts' permanent collection, which began in 1990 when the museum invited kids around the world to send in their self-portraits to the museum. Since then, the collection has expanded enormously with the acquisition of both historical and contemporary children's art. Here are five great ways to enjoy "Face to Face" with your brood, from checking out the mini masterpieces on view to leaving your own autobiographical impressions.
Get to know children from around the world through their art
As the exhibition showcases more than 2,000 pieces—created from the 1930s to the present by children from more than 50 countries—museumgoers can see how children in such faraway places as India, Argentina, Austria and the former USSR have portrayed themselves. Their works display diverse styles, ranging from abstract (one portrait resembles a robot) to intricately realistic (in a portrait from Indonesia, the artist captures the elaborate textures of embroidered fabric and a floral headdress). Kids will also see how their fellow New Yorkers have captured themselves over time, from the Great Depression through the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The portraits vary widely in medium and technique (some are even video portraits created by CMA students), but the works as a whole shed light on the universal aspects of children's natural desire to explore their self-identity in creative ways.
Create your own self-portraits
There are plenty of ways families can leave their own mark, whether ephemeral or lasting, at "Face to Face." After checking out their concave and convex reflections in a giant mirror-clad installation by Brooklyn design studio Tri-Lox, children can create fleeting imprints of their hands or faces on pin-impression boards. Artists-in-training can create a more permanent self-expression at several hands-on stations, where they can sculpt their own bust in clay, try their hand at blind contour drawing or pose for a photograph with wacky props. These snapshots, which are projected onto the wall next to the photo booth (also by Tri-Lox), will eventually be accessioned into the museum's permanent collection.
Record an oral history
Self-portraiture implies a visual creation, but kids can also explore their lives through audio portraits. At regular workshops in CMA's sound booth, kids can record their fondest memories or descriptions of their favorite foods, animals and places. These oral autobiographies will be uploaded onto CMA's blog for families to download and preserve for posterity.
See artists at work
Next to the photo booth, young visitors can check out videos depicting contemporary artists Shepard Fairey, the Los Angeles–based street artist who created the now-famous Hope poster that came to represent the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, and Phil Hansen, who became a YouTube sensation with a time-lapse video of himself painting 30 different portraits on his own torso. Children will also be able to see guest artists in action, creating original portraits, thanks to the Artist-at-Work station in CMA's fine art studio.
Encourage your kids to become part of the permanent collection
In honor of its 25th anniversary, CMA has issued an open call for 25 new works by young artists ages 1 to 15. After viewing "Face to Face," kids may request archival paper from one of the museum's teaching artists and get to work on a new creation. One self-portrait will be acquisitioned by public voting through CMA's Facebook page; the rest will be selected by the museum's curatorial team, based on such factors as originality and timeliness, before the exhibit closes in June.
"Face to Face" is on view at the Children's Museum of the Arts through June 9.