Part of the fun in seeing Garfield Park Arts Center's new exhibition of bad art comes in riffing on each artist's gloriously misguided, accidentally surreal choices. Gallery manager Elsy Benitez leads the charge, wondering if the guy (?) in a two-shot of a man and a floating horse head ("Think Again") is either Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson (I vote for a Thriller-era Jackson face with "All Night Long"-era Ritchie hair).
I'm standing in Benitez's office at GPAC, where she's started to open approximately 25 pieces from the permanent collection of the Boston-based Museum of Bad Art, which bills itself as the "world's only museum dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all of its forms." Benitez is pairing these pieces with submissions by local artists and collectors for GPAC's July show 99% Inspiration + 1% Perspiration = No Sweat: An Exhibition of Bad Art. And it's one hit after another.
There's "The Horror, The Glory", a Civil War (?) battle scene distinguished by what appears to be a slain nutcracker splayed out in the bottom right corner. And "The Departure", which once and for all beats out Modigliani in the face-stretching game, with eyes and mouth as end points for a long highway of a nose. Benitez says it's one of her favorites from the lots, praising it for the way it evokes "longing" (literally).
Sometimes you think you're on to what the artist was hoping to communicate. "A Mariachi in Tiananmen Square" finds, as you might expect, a mariachi replacing the Chinese protestor who faces down a row of tanks; a description penned by the museum proposes that his "mariachi costume may indicate the universality of the struggle against oppression worldwide." (These descriptions can achieve a dead-pan hilarity in the way they employ museum-quality curator-speak to talk about the most eccentric of work.)
Other times, one finds oneself at a loss. Why has the "Queen of the Chocolate Chip" deigned to pose in mid-bite? Why, in another portrait, are those skin tones rendered in a royal, extra-terrestrial blue? Benitez thinks the artist may have been inspired by Picasso's blue period, and adds that the show has all of its art-historical bases covered, from portrait to landscape, still life to action.
But let's be clear: For Benitez, this show isn't about laughing at other's mistakes, or even a sophisticated appreciation of outsider art created by the untutored and uninhibited. It's more proactive than that. She values a "sense of humor in art," and was looking to book a show that would appeal to kids and families — and all of those who feel uncomfortable in a museum setting. And she hopes that by looking at others' "mistakes," aspiring artists will feel a bit more free to try out something new, even if it might not be perfect. Or as Benitez puts it, with echoes of Shakespeare, "It's so much more powerful to attempt something and fail than to not even try."
And those so inspired are welcome to attend GPAC's Arts for All education program, which explores a theme raised by each month's exhibition. This month's theme is Everyone's a Critic: What is BAD Art?, and participants of all ages are invited Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. to discuss the concept of bad art (does it even exist, asks a brochure) and then, assuming it exists, to make their own bad art to be displayed in GPAC's second floor gallery.