Forth Worth, Texas From a sculpture of a pigtailed girl with four eyes to a photograph of a self-conscious teenager on the beach, works in the "Pretty Baby" art exhibit demonstrate that childhood can be anything but simple.
The exhibit features the creations of more than a dozen artists from five countries - paintings, photographs and sculptures, and even 1970s home movies and a Claymation video. It runs through June 24 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, its only appearance.
Museum curator Andrea Karnes said she created the show after studying how artists' images of children changed through the centuries. Since the Renaissance, youngsters had been portrayed as pure and idealized, but in the mid-20th century they began showing up in art in more realistic and sometimes controversial ways.
"It's not a show to represent sweet, innocent images of children; the pieces show the complexity of childhood," Karnes said. "There are works that are tender, painful. Rarely do any artists represent innocence without irony."
The title is from the 1978 film about child prostitution starring Brooke Shields, but only a few pieces in the exhibit are edgy, Karnes said. It features works from 1992 to 2007.
Rineke Dijkstra's compilation, "Bathers," photographs of an American teenager wearing a pink ruffled bikini and a Belgium girl in a more modest, one-piece bathing suit on different beaches, show that despite their cultural differences, the girls seem to share teen angst, Karnes said.
"To me, Dijkstra has this uncanny way of using straightforward photography but revealing the exact moment almost between adolescence and adulthood," Karnes said. "And even though they're these sort of frontal classical poses, they reveal this mix of pride and vulnerability and a lot of the things we feel at this age."
Popular Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara created an acrylic on canvas piece, "Thinker," just for this show. Several more of Nara's paintings of children, with enormous eyes and straight mouths similar to anime characters, also are featured.
Another room showcases Nara's fiberglass sculptures of puppies on stilts - which is 5 feet high, 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep - and a food bowl on the floor below. Karnes said the artist, who as a child may have witnessed his puppy's death, is trying to show that when the dogs are tall enough for drivers to see them, they will probably starve.
"Like so many Japanese artists, he uses cute to an extreme ... and pushes it so that we actually see the flip side, the dark side," Karnes said. "There's always this irony within the language of cute in Japanese art."
The exhibit features half a dozen oil paintings from another Japanese artist, Makiko Kudo. Her large, brightly colored pieces that include a swimming cat and penguins in a forest show a child's imagination and happiness - but also loneliness.
What could be the most disturbing piece is Nathalie Djurberg's short Claymation video, "Florentin," of a man playing with and then spanking two girls, who then beat him on the head with a baseball bat until he bleeds.