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Displays of Bad Art

Surely, the verdict is unanimous; this is a horrible painting on velvet.

Surely, the verdict is unanimous; this is a horrible painting on velvet.

Where Terrible Art Lives

Whether art is good or bad is in the subjective eye of the beholder, but some pieces can be agreed upon by almost everyone as atrocious. A few dedicated connoisseurs of the hideous have put together collections of terrible creations that should never have been rescued from the trash. Come with me on a journey into the world of kitsch art.

Museum of Bad Art

In 1994, Scott Wilson was strolling through the Roslindale neighbourhood of Boston when he spotted something interesting peeking out from between two garbage cans. There, waiting for a trip to the dump, was Lucy in the Field with Flowers. Wilson hauled the oil on canvas out from its hiding place and it inspired him to create the Museum of Bad Art.

Among those who claim to know something about art (unlike the writer) is Kate Swoger of The Montreal Gazette. She refers to Lucy as a “gorgeous mistake” depicting an “elderly woman dancing in a lush spring field, sagging breasts flopping willy-nilly, as she inexplicably seems to hold a red chair to her behind with one hand and a clutch of daisies in the other.”

There's also a strange green and yellow sky indicating, perhaps, the start of chemical warfare? Wisely, nobody has stepped forward to claim creator status, although, by placing it in his “Poor Trait” gallery, Scott Wilson has conferred some value on it.

Lucy wearing a dress whose hem seems to have a mind of its own.

Lucy wearing a dress whose hem seems to have a mind of its own.

Another resident of the Poor Trait gallery is Sunday on the Pot with George. This abomination uses a poorly executed technique called pointillism, in which an image is built up using tiny dots of paint. It was developed by Georges Seurat in 1886 and one of his most famous renderings is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Stephen Sondheim took Seurat's beautiful painting as inspiration for his musical Sunday in the Park with George. The creator of Sunday on the Pot with George used Sondheim's title for his or her distortion of Seurat's technique.

The artist presents viewers with a tubby older man sitting on what may be a toilet, given the title, draped in blue fabric. The man is almost naked but, mercifully, has his underwear on.

There are many more horror exhibits at the Museum of Bad Art that, quite possibly, alone make a trip to Boston worthwhile. But the collection can be enjoyed from afar, see the link in “Sources” below.

Kitsch is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable as “Art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.”

Museum of Particularly Bad Art

In Australia, Helen Round is director of competitions and founder of The Museum of Particularly Bad Art. This is an annual event held in Melbourne that displays art about which its curator says, “It's all crap . . . We encourage people to come along and stand in front of the pictures with their glass of chardonnay and say out loud how appalling the art is.”

The core of the exhibit comes from Ms. Round's personal collection of several hundred objets d'atrocious. She says her upper price limit for finds at garage sales and thrift shops is $2.

The highlight of the event is the awarding of the Itchiball Prize. This is a parody of the prestigious Archibald Prize that is handed out annually to what is judged to be Australia's best portrait. The Archibald has not been without controversy with occasional lawsuits buzzing around.

This is where we meet Ben Butcher holder of the much-coveted title of Australia's Worst Artist. He gained that noble accolade with his masterpiece entitled Why Do We Need a Porpoise in Life? It shows a dolphin being impaled by a flying unicorn while a man plays soccer in the background.

Sadly, the Itchiball Prize is no longer handed out, but cheer up, we've still got the annual Turnip Prize to look forward to.

The Tate Modern

Landscape artist Scott Naismith has written about the sort of exhibits that sometimes go on display in the rarefied world of modern art and the pretentious twaddle used to describe them: “The culprits are mainly the conceptual artists who need to bamboozle you with an attempt at philosophical genius in order to camouflage the insignificance of the poorly executed end product.”

One place where such art is celebrated is Britain's Tate Modern

Housed in what used to be a coal-fired power station, London's Tate Modern houses a collection of “over a hundred years of art, from modernism in the early 1900s, to exciting works created today.” It also hands out annual Turner prizes for the best contemporary art. That brings us to My Bed.

Created by Tracey Emin, it is an unmade bed depicting the aftermath of a romp. There are condoms, underwear, balled up tissues, and empty vodka bottles scattered about. This example of sloppy housekeeping was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999, and that got the patrons of The George Hotel in Wedmore, Somerset, riled up.

As they drank from their mugs of cider, they constructed what is now the Turnip Prize.

My Bed (above) sold at auction for more than £2.5 million ($2.87 million). The purchaser prudently remained anonymous, perhaps wishing to not damage a reputation as a clever investor.

My Bed (above) sold at auction for more than £2.5 million ($2.87 million). The purchaser prudently remained anonymous, perhaps wishing to not damage a reputation as a clever investor.

Crap Art Celebrated at the Turnip Prizes

Headquarters for this giggle-fest at the expense of the pomposity sometimes emanating from the art world has since moved on to The New Inn, also in Wedmore. (The New Inn dates back only to the 1840s, hence its name)

Anybody can enter the Turnip Prize contest, but there are a few rules. Entries must show a complete lack of effort and have a humorous content, preferably a pun. The 2021 first prize went to 69-year-old architect Ching Ching Pi Pi Ee, of course it did.

The objet d'art is a small, stuffed panda named Mick, it was entitled “Panda Mick.” Flushed with success, Ching Ching Pi Pi Ee couldn't be bothered to show up to receive the prize—a small turnip impaled on a six-inch nail and mounted on a block of wood.

Trevor Prideaux, who organizes this prestigious competition said, “This year's event attracted 96 entries.” He added the winner “clearly has what it takes to be recognized in modern art circles and will be remembered in art history for no time at all.”

The 2011 trophy winner was Jim Drew, holding his entry, a jam jar filled with muddy water entitled “Jamming with Muddy Waters.”

The 2011 trophy winner was Jim Drew, holding his entry, a jam jar filled with muddy water entitled “Jamming with Muddy Waters.”

Bonus Factoids

  • Avant-garde artist Marcel Duchamp, using a pseudonym, entered a sculpture to a Society of Independent Artists competition. It was a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt 1917.” The piece was rejected even though Duchamp was a co-founder of the group. Modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz photographed what Duchamp had titled Fountain, and then threw it away. However, redemption came late to the artist when, in 2004, a poll of 500 art critics picked Fountain as “the most influential modern art work of all time” (BBC).
  • Performance art is a thing, so we are told. “It is the moment when the performer with his own idea steps in his own mental physical construction in front of the audience in particular time.” That definition is provided by performance artist Marina Abramović. Author David Sedaris was a bit more pithy when he described performance art as being a genre “where god-given talent was considered a hindrance.” You can read more about performance art here.
Sunday on the Pot with George.

Sunday on the Pot with George.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Rupert Taylor