What do the Wakefield twins, the ladies of the Baby-Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, and R.L. Stine’s goosebumps-inducing cohort have in common? They are all the subjects of books that were the literary touchstones of a generation, often spanning several of those generations — and as such, they themselves are touchstones as well. Nostalgia being what it is in this day and age, they’re also the inspiration for an art exhibit currently running at Gallery1988 in Los Angeles (through February 23), presented by Hello Giggles. It's called "Young Adult," and it brings together the work of more than 60 female artists in celebration of many of their (and our) favorite childhood novels. This may be the only Y.A. art show that I've heard of, but it seems a no-brainer, easily abounding with insider jokes to make the Y.A. fan feel at home, as well as presenting updates on old themes to keep viewers guessing and surprised as they peruse art inspired by their old friends.
The gallery space on Melrose near La Brea is a rectangular white room with the lion's share of the art hanging to the left and right of a desk where one gallerist sits, ready to answer questions or sell perusers a print. (There's also a rack of prints, some associated with the exhibit and some not, available for purchase near that desk). Along with the framed Y.A. artwork displayed on the walls there are pieces like Alisa Ross's "Monster Blood," a stuffed hamster breaking out of a cage; a stuffed trailer and "King Jellyjam" from Julie Pinzur; and a Slappy doll by Michelle Coffee. The exhibit is small enough to be seen in 15 or 20 minutes, but the longer you linger the more you notice and remember. There are aspects of these books, some of which we read over and over again, lodged deep within our psyches! Just look at that Wakefields picture above, and let's discuss the first and second and third and fourth things that come to mind ...
R.L. Stine told me of the works in honor of his books, "I was totally creeped out by the idea of people in dark rooms all over the U.S. painting the evil dummy Slappy and other Goosebumps creations. These artists are definitely twisted, and I take no responsibility."
In terms of the exhibit as a functional art show, there's something for everyone price-wise, with some of the framed pieces ranging in the hundreds while prints for others are a mere $35. But even if you don't want to take anything home, each of the pieces of art is worth a look for a Y.A. fan. I ooohed and ahhhed over more than a few, as you'd expect, including the nod to Choose Your Own Adventure books by Jessica Deahl.
Some of the artists keep it fairly traditional while others introduce farce, surreal interpretations, and humor to their pieces. Maggie Mull's "Young-And-Awkward-Adult Books" is a great modern send-up of the books we read and loved. For example: "Are You There, God? It's Me, Saddlebags," and "I Know What You Did Last Summer ... You Went to Theater Camp!"
There was a ton of Nancy Drew, veering from Jetsons-esque (by Shana Bilbrey) to ghostly romantic (by Esther Bayer) to Sephora-esque (by Danielle Murray) — and I mean that in a good way — to beyond photographic (by Bec Winnel):
A piece by Jenna Puente incorporates pages of the actual books as the matte:
If you were deeply affected by R.L. Stine's Say Cheese and Die, Nan Lawson's artistic rendition may bring back chills, as it did for a friend with whom I saw the exhibit:
And this piece featuring the "Goosebumps Celebrities," by Katie Perdue, is awesome:
There was no shortage of of Sweet Valley High here, from depictions of the twins young and old to an air-brushed homage to Sweet Valley hunk Bruce Patman. A few notable ones, from Larissa Thomas (top — not all are PG) and Kelly Denato (Patman heart):
My favorite piece of all, though, was the Harriet the Spy "Life Is a Mystery" print by Lauren Gregg at right (the quote is, "Is Everybody a Different Person When They Are With Somebody Else?") To the left of it is a Sweet Valley High piece by Meg Hyland.
I'm also a big fan of these Ann Sullivan drawings of Kristy, the always fashionable Claudia, Stacey, and Mary Anne.
Be forewarned/ready to laugh: Some of the reimaginings were a little bit risque, as well as not a little bit tongue-in-cheek ("The Temptation of Stacey McGill"!), but that's what happens when the artist grows up, we suppose. In a time when a certain Anne of Green Gables cover has readers up in arms over they who darest portray the red-headed icon as a flannel-clad blonde, it's refreshing to be presented with clear evidence that not every re-imagining is a bad one. Some might even be better than the originals.
Photos by Jen Doll or from Gallery1988.