The illustration “Error” by Jonathan Choi depicts semi-robotic arms unleashing their weapons on a family in their own home. An adult restrains a child from reaching for their guardian or parent, who is being attacked by a stream of bullets: One has already pierced the brow. Choi’s work is one of nearly 600 award-winning pieces by New York City teenagers on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art starting tomorrow, March 24.
These talented seventh through twelfth-grade students have received Gold Keys, the top regional recognition of the 2023 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. A jury of arts and literary leaders selected works in the NYC region from submissions by over 3,000 students, and The Met along with the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, which administers the awards, organized the winning artworks loosely by theme and medium, with quotes from winning poems and short stories pasted on some gallery walls. The exhibition is on view through May 21.
“The young people participating in this exhibition have devoted their time and creative energy to these works, and we’re proud to show their art at the Museum,” Met Education Chair Heidi Holder said in a statement shared with Hyperallergic. “Art making — drawing, painting, collage, sculpture, photography, and more — helps young people make sense of our complex world and allows them to express that understanding to others.”
Works in categories including comic art, design, mixed media, and sculpture appear in two spaces in the museum’s education center. Printed pieces such as digital art, comics, and photography hang in groups of five to ten on the walls of the group check-in room. In the center of the gallery space, a slide show of sculptures, film, animated works, and other pieces that were unable to be displayed plays on a loop. Viewers can see paintings, illustrations, and mixed media in the surrounding hallways.
Despite differences in form and vision, the works show young people’s sustained engagement with topics such as depression, transphobia, or personal growth. Christopher Wisniewski, executive director of the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, told Hyperallergic that social issues, mental health, and questions about identity have always been present in the work they recognize. However, these issues have become more prominent in recent iterations of the exhibition. “It makes sense,” Wisniewski said. “Given what these young people have gone through in the past few years.”
Mia Cruz’s drawing “Agenda,” included in the Editorial Cartoon category, criticizes the Republican party for its fear-mongering and transphobic tactics. Heidi Li’s “Piece by Piece” and “Climate Poverty” by Julian Raheb are two of many works that explore climate change. Meanwhile, Julien Level renders identity and perception in the digital artwork “Ode To the Mind.” Competing thoughts like “You are constantly dying until you realize you’re immortal” or “I owe nobody nothing” collide amongst layered faces.
Figuration and family are also recurring themes. Holder noticed many grandparents and elders represented on the walls, as in “Duality” by Django Luis, which portrays two Black men, perhaps father and grandfather, holding a baby with candles glowing in the background. Another motif Holder identified was that of distorted realities. While the photograph “Living Nightmare” by Julien Mitchell shows a living person propped against the doors of what looks like the doors of a van, the purple body paint and rolled-back eyes lend the image an uncanny mood.
Beyond celebrating these talented teens, Holder hopes the exhibition is also a confidence boost for all young artists coming to The Met. “It’s a big deal for kids who come through these spaces to see that teens can show work here,” he said.