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Weekly Alibi So Bad It's Good

By Noah Masterson

DECEMBER 7, 1998:  SO BAD IT'S GOOD: I am a bad artist, as evidenced by a monstrosity titled Middle-Aged Mexicans in Love (acrylic and vomit on canvas, 1995), which hangs in my living room and for which I am routinely ridiculed. The painting was an attempt at sincerity, thwarted by a profound lack of talent. When one thinks of bad art, the first images to present themselves are usually velvet Elvises, sad-eyed clowns and hotel room landscapes. But that crap is a dime a dozen, scoffed at by bad art aficionados. Bad art, like good art, must have passion. The artist must demonstrate serious effort to create something grand--and fail, much like Kevin Costner's The Postman.

Thrift stores are the best places to score bad art, and the paintings you'll find are reasonably priced. In Albuquerque, Thrift Town dedicates an entire wall to second-hand paintings, on a shelf above the women's wear. Saver's and Albuquerque's four Goodwill locations have similar collections. You have to sift through a lot of bad bad art before you get to the good bad art. Look for original works--not prints--of anything that makes you laugh, gasp or groan. Don't worry whether it will look nice in your living room--it won't.

The most notorious collection of bad art is at the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), in Dedham, Mass., just south of Boston. MOBA has published a fantastic book, which includes some of their "best" pieces, accompanied by wickedly dry academic critiques. One work, which hangs permanently at MOBA, is by Albuquerque native Sarah Irani, who is currently attending school at New College in Sarasota, Fla. Irani's work is really more grotesque than bad--due in part to her use of bright, clashing colors. (She gives most of her portrait subjects a cheerful bright green complexion.) "I paint this way because it's the only way I really can paint," said Irani via e-mail. "I don't know how to blend properly or create realistic flesh tones, so I try to hide my shortcomings by being as obscenely garish as possible. ... My artistic vision is to portray the splendor of human flesh in all the glory which it doesn't have, but should." Irani has started a new movement called "Bauxism," of which she is the only member.

The Web is where bad art thrives: MOBA's site is located at www.glyphs.com/moba, and for a Sarah Irani retrospective, visit her home page at www.concentric.net/~duodenum. If there could be an "official" site for bad art, it would be--by virtue of its domain name alone--www.badart.com. At this site, curator Vito Salvatore (not his real name) displays his personal collection of bad art, most of which he purchased for less than $10. Then he turns around and slaps outrageously high price tags on each painting. To date, no one has bought any of the paintings from www.badart.com. "I can only pray that one day some befuddled individual with more enthusiasm than sense will send me a Fed Ex box full of cash for Handsome Bill," confided Salvatore via e-mail. The whole idea behind a good work of bad art is that it is of no monetary worth, an eyesore and a conversation piece, bearing only kitsch value. But if Salvatore can sucker collector types into taking this tripe seriously--the price tag on Handsome Bill is $2,675,000--he would execute the most brilliant exploitation of pop culture's obsession with irony in history. Salvatore also offers links to nearly every bad art Web site in existence.

When starting your bad art collection, bear in mind that you are buying into a trend perhaps at its peak; the amount of bad art on the Web is evidence alone. You and your collection probably won't be considered as hip in a couple years, when the inevitable backlash against ironic detachment is firmly in place. But hell, if you genuinely appreciate the stuff--as I do--the opinion of your hipster friends matters not a whit.


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