Look inside: ‘Girl You Want’ exhibition at ArtYard

Some 16 years ago, Jill Kearney and Stephen McDonnell began hosting theater, literary, dance and music events in an unheated former dairy barn in their Bucks County, PA, backyard. After years of “joyful mayhem,” Kearney and artist Elsa Mora started to explore the idea of creating a more formalized space, and found an opportunity in an old warehouse and egg hatchery across the river in Frenchtown.

In 2016, the team cracked a giant egg on the Frenchtown property, releasing puppet and costume birds. It marked the arrival of what would become ArtYard’s stellar new gallery and performance arts space on the banks of the Delaware.

Despite pandemic challenges, ArtYard opened its gallery space in May 2021, and the first exhibition, ‘Girl You Want,’ curated by J. Vanessa Lyon is now open for viewing.

‘Pink Slime Caesar Shift: Gold Edition Rolling Racks,’ Jen Liu.
‘Pink Slime Caesar Shift: Gold Edition Rolling Racks,’ Jen Liu.

The multimedia exhibition features work from nine artists that prompts viewers to question, what is a girl, what do we expect from girls, and how is girlhood imagined, pasted together, implied, judged, and/or otherwise constructed?

Reads the gallery description: “While far from comprehensive of the countless embodiments of girlhood and youthful femininity across identity and experience, the exhibition asks: What leaves girls wanting? What do we want from them? What is it like to mature or grow out of girlhood—or to have one’s growth undermined by it?”

States Lyon: “Through the windows of race, gender, class, sexuality, and dis/ability, people perceive and are perceived. Media shapes our assumptions and children are regarded by others and themselves as the good or bad or real or best kind of girl.”

‘Be More,’ Genevieve Gaignard, mixed media with found objects and furniture.
‘Black is Beautiful,’ Genevieve Gaignard. Mixed media with found objects and furniture.

There’s much to take in, and media shifts from installation to installation: from Genevieve Gaignard’s bedroom recreations that explore the items on the road to “magazine beautiful,” for women and girls of color; to Karinne Smith’s hanging collagen and silicon sculpture that forces those inside and out of the piece to ponder skins; our natural ones, the ones beneath and the ones we put on top of them.

‘Pinkie II,’ Karinne Smith. Collagen film, flesh clamps, found bees, falsies, silicone, hair ties, baby powder, glass beads, found photograph, tulle.

Film shorts from Ivy Stewart, Julia Greenburger and María Vargas Aguilar play in succession and add dynamic commentary on influence: Stewart’s ‘Fever Dreams’ is dark, funny and set in a world that looks different but feels eerily familiar; Greenburger’s ‘Self-Portrait’ hauntingly plays ‘Jolene’ over old home videos (and is it just us or is the music getting louder; Parton’s words thundering by the time the film ends?); and Aguilar’s ‘Castas Mestiza’ features rapid, breathless recitation of colonial words and phrases that women of color were (and still are) called in Spanish-speaking countries—the exasperation on the film subjects’ faces, and in the narrator’s voice, are mirrors and echoes of those sitting and watching.

There’s plenty more, and the full effect hits as one moves from piece to piece. It’s a provocative, strong, well-curated and thoughtful first exhibition for ArtYard’s new space.

See it:  Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. through Aug. 1 @ ArtYard, 13 Front Street, Frenchtown.

About ArtYard: ArtYard presents a diverse array of art exhibitions, performances, film screenings, and poetry events. ArtYard’s mission is to serve as an incubator for creative expression and a catalyst for collaborations that reveal the transformational power of art. Visit to learn more.