What Urs Fischer, Daniel Arsham, and Dustin Yellin’s Art Looked Like When They Were Just Kids

Ali Rigo

Long, long before Urs Fischer got himself a 12,000-square-foot studio or dug an eight-foot hole in the floor of Gavin Brown’s Manhattan gallery, the Swiss-born artist was molding cats out of polymer clay. He started making these before he even hit double digits—and it’s a motif he ended up sticking with for decades. Fischer is not the only artist to recently discover just how early his current style was forged: “Not much has changed in the past 40 years” was how Tom Sachs described a sketch he did at 10 years old, of U.S. and Nazi Tanks at war (even if he’s since turned his attention toward outer space). Both artists are featured in “My Kid Could Do that,” a new group exhibition by the nonprofit ProjectArt that’s showcasing and auctioning early works by artists like Laurie Simmons and Daniel Arsham to fund after-school art classes, and which is on view at Red Bull Arts New York, along with an artist-led workshop, this Saturday, April 29. From Dustin Yellin‘s seven-year-old scribblings of a man named Sam who plays in the sand and gets a tan, to 10-year-old Wendy White’s collage featuring a 1981 newspaper clipping about Sandra Day O’Connor’s appointment to the Supreme Court, to teenaged Rashaad Newsome‘s Pollock-like canvases and seven-year-old Rirkrit Tiravanija‘s Spock ears, take a look back, here.

Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Mats Nordman

Urs Fischer (age 8 or 9), Cat , 1981. “It’s a very small sculpture of a cat, which is a motif that has recurred throughout my work of the past two decades.”


Dustin Yellin (age 7). “These are ballpoint pen on paper. My interest in geology has not changed. My feelings for rocks are strong. Death has remained a constant. The direction in which time travels has been a constant source of anxiety. As you get older and decay maybe the glass gets thicker. A certain type of lensing happens. A sediment. The subjective experience changes chemistry. Maybe I’ve since gained hope, and you should too.”

Courtesy of Rirkrit Tiravanija

Rirkrit Tiravanija (age 7), untitled (silver mr. Spock), edition of 21. Taken in Addis Ababa in 1968 by their father, the photograph shows the artist and his sister. Rirkrit, seven years old at the time, is wearing Mr. Spock ears that he sculpted himself from plasticine. He considers these ears his first sculpture and this photo its documentation.

Ali Rigo

Katherine Bernhardt (age 17), Self Portrait, 1992. “I made this self portrait as a senior at Clayton High School in 1992. I made my watercolors in my room at night after school. High school is also when I made my first oil paintings and first experimented with acrylic. I took art classes specifically in painting at the St. Louis Art Museum and ceramic class at the Craft Alliance. I was accepted to the Art Institute of Chicago with this drawing, along with other works that I showed at portfolio day at Washington University.”

Courtesy of Wendy White

Wendy White (age 10), Prints/Sandra Day O’Connor, 1981. “These are two successive pages from a newsprint sketchbook of mine from 1981, when I was 10. The three small animals at the top—a bird, a rabbit, and a pig—were made from my fingerprints and pen. Using stencils and markers, I wrote the word ‘PRINTS’ in huge rainbow text and then signed my name really big at the bottom. I still use rainbow colors and text in my work to this day. The next thing pasted into the sketchbook was a newspaper clipping from the day Sandra Day O’Connor broke ground to become the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court: September 25, 1981.”

Courtesy of Tom Sachs

Tom Sachs (age 10), 1976. “Not much has changed in the past 40 years since I made this drawing.”

Courtesy of Terence Koh

Terence Koh (age 16 or 17), 1993.

Courtesy of Rashaad Newsome

Rashaad Newsome (age 14), Untitled, acrylic on canvas.

Courtesy of Katherine Bradford

Katherine Bradford (age 8), 1950. “Done with crayons on cheap paper, this drawing of two elephants represents my ongoing obsession with mother-child images and with being a non-conformist animal artist. Most kids would draw the elephant side view with four feet on the ground and a long trunk hanging down. I don’t think I ever saw two elephants do this circus trick but it certainly makes them more human and less wild. Other artistic points to consider are that I colored within the lines but not too carefully and that I used a wonderful magenta red crayon as outline. It would be years before I could get two figures to balance properly on one leg but here is proof that I was off to a bad start.”