And the Child Shall Lead Them

Tam Ochiai contrasts the naiveté of youngsters with his pose of authority

Tam Ochiai’s new show at the Team Gallery uses kids from the hood to create an installation and prove a point.

Criticized in earlier shows as being naïve and even childlike for his paintings of fey japanique fashion figures in washy pastel colors, Ochiai forces the viewer to redefine those terms.

Twenty-seven children ranging in age from six to 12 from the Chelsea Recreation Center’s summer camp were brought into the gallery and given a table full of colored pencils and the artist catalogues, photos, and notebooks from previous shows and told to copy these images onto the gallery wall. Most of these kids had never been in a gallery so they were totally unschooled in the pressures of showbiz. Many of them succeeded with their copies, while the younger ones mostly just scribbled. The walls are filled with crazy cats, silly fashion faces, umbrellas, crying girls and skinny boys. Text also found its way onto the wall, many phrases written in French even if the children didn’t understand that language.

After the installation was finished, the artist, using the cues from the wall drawings, placed seven of his new drawn and painted pieces—including one that is a reversible drawing of a bride in white and a figure in a black mourning dress that is changed everyday—on the wall, so that a comparison between naïve and intentional style could be made. His drawings look totally stylized compared to the children’s renditions. Thus, Ochiai proves his point. Children make naïve drawings while he chose this style as a pose of authenticity. The room is quietly beautiful. The impact is very delicate and he keeps it humble by letting the kids be the stars of this show.

In the back room he has two works on view without input from the kids. One, “fur (white),” looks like a blank piece of paper but upon closer inspection consists of a meticulously drawn surface of lines signifying fur. The other wall is a grid of 60 drawings and paintings on paper, titled “tail (cinema),” of clocks, fashion victims, park benches, animals and faces. This assemblage is the best in the show and holds together, especially in the face of the deconstruction in the front room. It renders Ochiai believable and authentic.

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