Kid cubist

Twelve-year-old Alexandra Nechita is fooling art patrons as the "Petite Picasso"

An assistant at the gallery later admitted that none of the Dallas buyers even mentioned "investment" once they zeroed in on a piece. Instead, they gushed over Nechita's "talent" and seemed anxious to get the work home to their living room wall. While this may come off as honest admiration--rare enough in today's investment-savvy art market--it also smacks of the buying habits of those with too much discretionary income and little direction on how to spend it. Their willingness to shell out big bucks to someone who they perceive is a promising emerging artist, again isn't the point. Their $90,000 won't just buy a Picasso drawing--it could also go toward a Stella, or a small Basquiat, or a modest Schnabel. It would buy a great limited-edition Chuck Close or Andy Warhol print. But these Nechita fans don't want to know about that; research is tiresome, the real art world is complex and opaque, and so they'll throw money at what the Today show and People magazine label "hot." I suspect these amateur collectors are the same people who rushed out to buy the new Porsche Boxster only months before, and spent 50 grand on the Persian rugs they'll replace in a few years. So for a once-expensive painting to grace their homes--only to be retired to storage by the year 2001--is no sweat off their backs. No, sir. "And who do I make the check out to, please?"

In the end, it's still paying a 12-year-old far more than she's worth. Nechita says things like, "When I paint, I feel the inspiration in my soul and fill the canvas from my heart!" and "It's not that my work is so much better than any other kids. It's that I put so much time into it, like three or four hours a day!" She's earnest, even in her blatant, trained-monkey nod to a dead artist and his retired movement--a style so distinct that it should be an aesthetic low even to ape it. She's a good kid surrounded by greedy adults. It's not her fault she's rich and famous. Not yet, at least.

Nechita may be lucky even to have a career when she hits legal age; not that any of those pulling her strings care to look to that grim future. Will she ever chuck the "Petite Picasso" label and follow her own instincts, possibly even reinvent her career by displaying personal vision or integrity? (I'm thinking of Marky Mark the cartoony rapper becoming Mark Wahlberg the serious actor, or Ron Howard the Ritchie Cunningham becoming the respected Hollywood director), or will she evaporate into embarrassed obscurity? (Vanilla Ice and Corey Haim.) There are kid artists out there who showed real vision and talent from the get-go: Ben Lee of Noise Addict, Jodie Foster, even North Texas' own little songwriter Ben Kweller of Radish, who may wear his admiration for Kurt Cobain front and center, but by the ripe old age of 16 has found a personal stamp.

Prodigy, my ass. Mozart was a prodigy. At the gallery that muggy afternoon, Nechita didn't appear to be thinking past lunchtime.

At least if she meets ruination and obscurity, she'll do it with millions of dollars to her name. That should cushion the blow.

Alexandra Nechita at the Florence Art Gallery, through June 20. (214) 754-7070.

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