Art Makes Children Powerful by Bob and Roberta Smith (aka artist Patrick Brill, b.1963), is based on a 2012 work consisting of sign-writer’s paint on board, featured on the cover of the Saatchi Gallery Magazine Art & Music, Autumn 2013 issue, in order to mark the publication’s five-year anniversary. It is also the title of Smith’s first solo exhibition in Ireland, organised as part of the 40th Kilkenny Arts Festival, which features a core survey of recent paintings, sculpture and installation together with interactive projects that attempt to empower the spectator: a temporary art school offers teaching on tonality, expression and colour; the viewer is invited to dress up as the writer and thinker Hannah Arendt (an essential influence on Smith), and one can track the paths of bees in the garden outside the grounds of the former Bishop’s Palace.
Most revealingly, however, the Art Makes Children Powerful exhibition displays an open letter written by Smith to the British education secretary, Michael Gove, in which the former expresses his opposition to the proposed removal of Art from the GCSE core curriculum in England. This letter and its display is key to understanding Smith’s practice, and the significance of the artwork Art Makes Children Powerful, 2012 and 2013, available on Sedition. For Bob and Roberta Smith, audience participation is central – so much so that his ultimate aim is to reverse the relationship between himself and the spectator in order to put the latter in charge of his art and the thought process behind it. Art Makes Children Powerful is not only a slogan that errs toward political cliché, it is also a call for activism and consciousness against the political establishment; an appeal for political action regarding an issue about which Smith feels passionately.
Bob and Roberta Smith lives and works in London.