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Review: Children's Garden and Kinderszenen 

D. Eric Bookhardt on two new shows exploring the dark side of childhood

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Ah childhood, that wondrous time when all the world is new. It is an age of marvels, but marvels are not always marvelous. Childhood friends may reveal the world to us, but they might also get us in trouble. Some kids are kind and some are cruel, but most parents are almost never cool. Childhood's complexities are explored in Alan Gerson's new paintings. In Children's Garden, two hairless boys ride on the shoulders of their hairless, business-suited fathers through a lush tropical landscape filled with strange plants that greet their arrival with seemingly carnivorous interest. In Birthday a twisted looking tyke poses grimly with a cake in a room choked with darkly bulbous balloons and the kinds of colorful packages that make you think "bomb." In Mask (pictured), a child in a too realistic Frankenstein mask stands stiffly in front of a brick building that looks like an old-time prison (or grade school), in a stiffly menacing pose that makes gun control seem like a pretty good idea. Gerson, who describes himself as a "recovering attorney," paints children the way Diane Arbus photographed them, in canvases where the walls are always claustrophobic and plants are always gravid with dark portent. Lets hope they don't grow up to be lawyers.

  More Gersons appear in the Kinderszenen show at Tulane, but here there are contrasts. In Mark Bercier's paintings, little girls sometimes seem deliriously gaga, but the stark graphics in his Healin' Symbols and Forgotten Dreams canvases invoke both A.R. Penck's graphic expressionism and Henry Darger's disturbed innocence to strike a balance between sweet and creepy that keeps you guessing. Figurative art, to be any good, must convey as much psychological substance as any actual human does, and here Sibylle Peretti truly excels in work like her Genie and Victor series of armless ceramic sculptures, which radiate inner lives quietly fraught with intensely complex emotions. — D. Eric Bookhardt

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