Four-Year-Old Artist Funds College Education with Three Paintings

The Atlantic
Four-Year-Old Artist Funds College Education with Three Paintings
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Four-Year-Old Artist Funds College Education with Three Paintings

At this point, the story of the pre-preschool art prodigy is hardly news, but it's still crazy how the toddler Picasso cases keep getting younger. Newspapers started calling Aelita Andre a master at age two, apparently in the practices of "automatism" and "accidentalism," but according to her artist father, she started painting at nine months by crawling through paint on canvas. Now four years old, the young Australian artist has already sold--or rather her parents have sold--three paintings in a solo show at the Agora Gallery in Chelsea, reportedly for $27,000 each. (Tuition at the University of Sydney runs only about $4,500 per year.) Her parents, both artists, took Aelita to the Museum of Modern Art during their visit to New York for Saturday's show opening and said Aelita was disappointed. "Where are my paintings?" the child asked.

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In 2009, Aelia's parents took her to her first solo show in a stroller. At that time, the young girl garnered international attention from the press and became the subject of a 60 Minutes special called "The Next Big Thing."

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The story of a four year-old genius artist should sound familiar to New Yorkers though. In 2007, My Kid Could Paint That, a movie about a toddler-sized Jackson Pollack in Binghamton, premiered at Sundance and offered a deeper investigation into whether or not child artists are as brilliant as their parents and dealers say. Then the same age as Aelia today, Marla had been subject to deep scrutiny in another 60 Minutes special that challenged whether the child herself had painted the works or if her parents had been involved. After studying a hidden camera's video of  Marla painting on her own, a child psychologist who had studied the young girl's behavior showed skepticism:

I can only speculate. I don't see Marla as having made, or at least completed, the more polished looking paintings, because they look like a different painter. Either somebody else painted them start to finish, or somebody else doctored them up. Or, Marla just miraculously paints in a completely different way than we see on her home video.

Whether or not, Aelita is the real deal doesn't seem to matter to those in the art market. In her rise to fame, her parents were careful to ensure that her work would be judged only on its merit and not on Aelita's age. Prior to this most recent show in Chelsea, Aelita's mother did not disclose her daughter's age to Angela Di Bello, owner of the Agora Gallery, when showing her the paintings. I saw great colors, great movement, great composition and very playful, and I thought, "This is fantastic," Di Bello told NBC New York. "Who is this person? Only to find out, she's a child." This painting is called "The Unknown."

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Before her show at the Agora Gallery, Aelita sold paintings at shows in Australia and Hong Kong, where one painting fetched $24,000. Between then and now, paintings have been listed for sale on ARTmine for between $4,000 and $11,000. The young artist also has her own website which describes her work as, "improvised combined with deliberate techniques: it doesn't have a sense of over determination or being too purposeful and planned--characteristics that can adversely affect adult abstract paintings by making them contrived or ugly through being angst ridden."

In an interview with Aelita's parents, a 60 Minutes reporter asked, "Well, aren't you just taking the piss out of the art world?"

"Well, you could say that about any abstract artist," the girl's father answered.

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