Edited by Jaroslav Anděl. University of Minnesota Press, March 2019. 232 p. ill. ISBN 9781517907525 (h/c), $39.95.

Reviewed November 2019
Ian McDermott, Coordinator of Library Instruction, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, imcdermott@lagcc.cuny.edu.

JaroslavBack to the Sandbox accompanies an exhibition of the same name held at Western Washington University in 2018. The Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland, and Kunsthall Stavanger, Norway, hosted two previous iterations of Back to the Sandbox. The catalog includes contributions from all three exhibitions while serving two functions: to document the exhibitions and to elucidate pedagogies for a creative and critically engaged society. The essays cover a wide range of fields, including fine arts, architecture, education, physics, and psychiatry. Participating artists’ statements are also included.

A central theme is the struggle between education’s extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Put another way, should education be a practice of creativity and freedom or a means of control and assimilation? The catalog argues for the former and curator Jaroslav Anděl’s introductory essay traces radical education’s roots back to kindergarten and the sandbox. Founded by Friedrich Froebel in Germany in 1837, the kindergarten movement spread rapidly across Western societies and provided education for masses of children for the first time. Kindergarten connected children to nature and encouraged open-ended play. Anděl and artist/inventor Michael Joaquin Grey argue that kindergarten’s radicalism is lacking in much of contemporary education. Many modernist artists were among the first generation of children to attend kindergarten. Grey hypothesizes that their experiences are attributable to their artistic achievements.

Grey provides scant evidence for this claim, which points to the catalog’s shortcomings. Readers expecting an overview of radical pedagogy in the arts will be disappointed. Instead, there are many essays examining the intersections of education, technology, and psychology. Most are akin to editorial columns, not scholarly essays. This format works at times, as in the case of artist Luis Camnitzer’s delightful “Hollow Stems,” but collectively the essays veer toward an intellectual sprawl that does not cohere.

There is little, if any, mention of well-documented institutions and individuals central to radical pedagogy in the arts: Bauhaus, Black Mountain College, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, the Feminist Art Program at CalArts, or Emory Douglas of the Black Panther Party. bell hooks and Paulo Freire, arguably critical pedagogy’s leading thinkers, are not discussed.

The essays and artists’ statements are generously illustrated, though much of the work (video, performance, and social practice) is difficult to reproduce. Helpful biographies, exhibition, and publication histories are provided for the contributors and a chronological publication timeline is excellent—it begins in 1631 with pedagogue John Amos Comenius. The lack of an index, though, is painful for such an interdisciplinary publication. Back to the Sandbox is recommended, but not essential, for art libraries supporting programs in art education, art and design, and museum studies.