In the face of spiralling financial and political instability, it’s all too easy to feel nostalgic for the simpler times of our childhood years. A new exhibition visualizes a fantasy world where playtime never ends, but there is an undercurrent of unease to its pastel-coloured optimism.

Joseph Buzzell, Untitled, 2007. Courtesy of William and Cara Buzzell
Joseph Buzzell, Untitled, 2007. Courtesy of William and Cara Buzzell

Growing up can be a real drag sometimes, with all the responsibilities and worries that come with it. Not to mention the financial instability and ecological crisis looming before younger generations, which is enough to make anyone wish that they could stay a kid forever. A new group show, curated by Scott Alario at Kristen Lorello gallery in New York, explores this nostalgic impulse, visualizing a fantasy world where playtime never ends. Titled Can You Dream It? (Yes I Can), the exhibition explores a collision of cuteness, transcendence and ambivalence. 

There is a cloying, saccharine side to these pastel colours and craft-influenced aesthetics; optimism is laced with the regret of a child who has eaten too many sweets at the end of a particularly exuberant birthday party. Kitsch mingles with raw intimacy in many of the pieces exhibited in the show, from David Thomas Colannino’s nativity scene made from Play-Doh to Heather Leigh McPherson’s collage made from epoxy, chiffon, coloured pencil and paper. 

“Optimism is laced with the regret of a child who has eaten too many sweets at the end of a particularly exuberant birthday party”

Unusual materials are a common thread throughout the exhibition, as artists make use of naive mark-making tools and items more commonly found in kid’s craft stores. On occasion, these component parts take on greater personal significance; the materials list for Rachel Klinghoffer’s sculptural work reads as follows: “Used paint brushes, shells collected by friends, nieces and nephew from Long Beach Island NJ, balloons from daughters first and second birthday, leather from friend, amethyst quartz, opals, sapphires, rubies, diamond, costume engagement ring, fake pearls from uncle, leftover glitter from making birthday cards, leftover wire from old sculpture, magic sculpt, metallic powders, acrylic, fabric glue, spray paint, varnish”. 

The act of remembering is confronted again and again. The exhibition takes its title from a song by Peanut Butter Kids, a recording project of the artist Joseph Buzzell, whose work also features in the exhibition. The song’s lyrics describe an imaginary world of magic marker rivers, glitter rainfall and spirographic mountains, offering a pop-influenced backdrop to the show. Over twenty artists are included across multiple disciplines, from Susan Cianciolo to Ryan McGinley and Justine Kurland. Take a trip down memory lane with them, where nothing is quite as it seems, as childlike innocence mingles with broken dreams.