The Bad Gallery

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TheBadGallery.com

by Evan Finkle, Cassie Packard, and Robert Gordon-Fogelson

Statement

         The Bad Gallery is a virtual platform for the public curation of bad art. Artworks are uploaded to the site anonymously by visitors and accessioned into a collection of artistic refuse. These works are then paired randomly, with visitors to the site voting for the artwork that they consider to be worse. Finally, the works voted to the bottom are compiled into a list of the worst artwork, perusable by the public.

Project Description

          The Bad Gallery has evolved significantly from its initial proposal as an investigation into the role of failure in creating art. The original intention was to interview artists about their failed artwork and to have them destroy these pieces in an attempt to identify the meaning of failure in art and to propose destruction as alternate mode of completion for the artist. We eventually modified the nature of the project by broadening our focus from failed art to bad art, with failure as only one of many reasons for the criticism of an artwork. We also expanded the scope of the project by abandoning the restrictive and selective nature of one-on-one interviews for the open-source, mass-participatory opportunities provided by a website. In the process, we also shifted our focus from the creation of art to the criticism of art.
          We referenced models such as RateBU.com and Compare People (a popular Facebook application), both of which are designed to have users compare people to see who is better looking, smarter, funnier, etc. Both models direct users to vote between two images, with the user clicking on a person to rate them up. There are two main differences between these sites and ours: instead of comparing people, The Bad Gallery compares art; and instead of rating up, on The Bad Gallery you rate down. In other words, we’re asking users to select bad art rather than attractive people.
          The notion of curating bad art isn’t new - The Museum of Bad Art, founded in 1994, has three galleries in the Boston area. However, by applying this concept to a web-based platform and making the curatorial process open-source, we’ve opened up new possibilities for thinking about artistic taste and institutional authority.

Academic Rationale

          The format of The Bad Gallery as a virtual space for the public curation of bad art is based on the idea that “the curator can become, instead of a gatekeeper, a creator of platforms that any artist who meets the articulated criteria can ‘join’ and build on” (Steve Dietz, Curating Net Art). In the case of The Bad Gallery, the only criteria are an opinion about art and an internet connection.
          The term “bad art” is intentionally ambiguous, open to a wide range of interpretations - these may include ugly, unsettling, unsuccessful, inaccessible, amateurish, offensive, etc. The process of comparing artworks prompts visitors to consider these nuances, to address what it is about a work of art that makes it bad. And, as Richard Woodward proposed in a recent ARTnews article, “the larger question is whether bad taste is even a consideration anymore.” In a contemporary art culture dominated by abstract and conceptual art, as long as there’s an aesthetic or idea behind a work, is it possible to label it as bad art?

          Although promoted as a gallery, the democratic, open-source nature of The Bad Gallery and its focus on bad art call into question both the function and the authority of art institutions. What differentiates a scribble from an abstract painting, a wad of gum from a conceptual masterpiece? And can’t artistic taste be determined as much by what we think is bad as by what we think is good? The Bad Gallery places questions of taste in the hands of the public. In this way, it allows for “an increased public involvement in the curatorial process, a ‘public curation’ that promises to construct more ‘democratic’ and participatory forms of filtering” (Christiane Paul, Flexible Contexts, Democratic Filtering, and Computer-Aided Curating).
          And in the spirit of further questioning institutional authority, a Staff Picks page offers a counterpoint to the Bottom 10 works voted by visitors. It acts as an outlet for our own curatorial voices, and simultaneously juxtaposes these voices with those of the site’s visitors. How does the artistic taste of three undergraduate art history students compare to that of the general public? Does an advanced degree and academic cultivation endow our selections with greater legitimacy? Or is the notion of good taste entirely subjective, with no single viewpoint garnering greater authority? At the present time, this Staff Picks page can be found here; in the future it will be incorporated into the actual website, viewable by visitors to The Bad Gallery.

Audience Identification and Engagement

         Central to our concept for this project was the desire to reach the largest conceivable audience and to be as inclusive of different demographics as possible, with the choice for a web-based platform fulfilling these requisites. It was important to our notion of a democratic and accessible approach to curation that anybody, regardless of their age, location or education, would be able to access The Bad Gallery and express their opinions about art. While The Bad Gallery can’t force participation from a wide cross-section of the public, it at least allows for it.

Publicity and Communication

         Because our curatorial exploit took place on an online platform, it made sense to have a web-based publicity program capitalizing on social media. We created a Facebook event advertising and linking to The Bad Gallery site. The event ultimately garnered over 1,500 invites as friends continued to invite friends. Furthermore, we made the link our Facebook statuses, and encouraged friends to do the same, in an effort to further spread the word. The constantly changing Bottom 10 is an attestation to the site’s popularity and frequent use.

Evaluation

          To evaluate our project, we conducted a brief survey of visitors to the site. From those individuals who we knew had used the site, we made a selection that represented the range of our audience. Coming from a variety of academic backgrounds, the survey participants had a range of knowledge about art history and visual art.
          The survey asked participants to elaborate on their mental processes as they decided which artworks were bad. We were curious as to what constitutes bad art and, furthermore, what the existence of bad art means for art as a whole. The survey questioned whether the act of comparing pieces on the site informed the user’s understanding of his or her own taste. The Bad Gallery is democratic and open-source, in stark contrast to many arts institutions. The evaluation addressed this tension by asking if site users felt that they had as much authority to judge art as does a major arts institution. The evaluation elucidated whether, for a handful of users, our site accomplished its intended goals. We hope to test a larger population in the future. Responses to the survey and our own analyses of these responses can be found here.

Challenges

          In making this site there arose numerous challenges. With the help of our web designer, Nic Schumann, we had to navigate the technical and aesthetic difficulties of creating a website from scratch. We were short on the time and marketing strategies necessary to launch and promote the site for optimal public response. Even payment for server space became an issue.
          Even after addressing all of these issues, there is still much to improve on - in addition to troubleshooting and tweaking some lingering flaws in the site, we still need to incorporate the Staff Picks page, further develop the Bottom 10 feature, conduct more surveys, improve user experience, etc.
          Despite the frenetic beginning to the project, the unforeseen challenges that arose along the way, and the areas for improvement that still remain, we have learned a great deal about curatorial practice in the process, its complexities and nuances. We believe that the success of The Bad Gallery in challenging traditional ways of thinking about art attests to the great deal of consideration and effort that we have devoted to the project. And the beauty of The Bad Gallery is that it will persist beyond the timeframe of this project and contains numerous possibilities for improvement and expansion.

Links

The Bad Gallery

ARTnews - "When Good Art is Bad"

The Museum of Bad Art

RateBU

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