Friday, November 13, 2015

Bad Art: Some Pretty Ugly Stuff

Copyright © Edward Riojas

“Madonna With Smile” was the first thing that caught my eye. And yes, it is ugly.
“Madonna With Smile”
Unknown artist.
(MOBA, Boston)

Sometimes artists get too caught up in the serious pursuit of perfection to notice the other side of life – not being serious at all. The other day I was surfing for art, and stumbled across the Museum of Bad Art. Located in Boston, MOBA celebrates some of the uglier pieces of art that missed getting carried out to the curb. The folks at MOBA make acquisitions at yard sales and resale shops, scraping the bottom of the creative barrel in a nearly cruel manner. ‘Madonna,’ with its Sharpie smile, is part of the museum’s permanent collection, and it’s guaranteed to make the viewer go, “What the?”

I was so inspired by the piece that I went surfing for some real gems. It’s easy – and mean – to poke fun at stuff  produced by folks who don’t have a lick of art education under their belts, which is what MOBA does. I decided to take a few jabs at the masters, who should have known better. Besides, most of them are dead and won’t give a rip about what I say, anyway.

Colonial art of the Americas is usually a good place to find bad art. Take the “Portrait of a Gentleman,” by an unknown artist. It can be seen in Colonial Williamsburg, but that doesn’t make it any prettier. There’s nothing handsome about a guy on a bad hair day who’s just come in from a hurricane. And, honestly, if you can’t center his eyes, Mr. Artist, then please do a profile.

“Portrait of a Gentleman”
Unknown artist.
(Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Folk Art Collection, Colonial Williamsburg, Va.)

Of course, when colonial sacred art gets thrown into a blender with finger-puppets, you know things will not turn out well. That much is obvious in this unknown piece by an unknown artist from an unknown South American country. I’d be embarrassed, too.
Untitled. Unknown artist.
Date unknown. (Nowhere)
Next up is a piece by Bortolomé Bermejo de Cardenas. The artist apparently missed one or two anatomy classes before painting the Christ Child in his “Retable of the Virgin of Montserrat.” Of course, we can’t rule out a fixation with the movie “The Exorcist.” I know our Lord can do all things, but unhinging His scull for the artist’s amusement is highly, HIGHLY doubtful.
“Retable of the Virgin of Montserrat” [Detail.]
Bortolomé Bermejo de Cardenas. 1485.
(Acqui Cathedral, Acqui Terme, Italy)
Fra Filippo Lippi was a painter of all things sacred, and a big name in early Christian art. The monk didn’t get out much, so we can’t blame him for inviting the wrong crowd to this painting. Even the Virgin Mary is baffled. Jesus, who looks like He’s already had too many Kit Kats, will probably never have a Halloween party again, thanks to Saint What’s-His-Face, who showed up sporting a cranial butcher knife.
“Madonna of Humility”
Fra Filippo Lippi. c. 1430.
(Castello Sforzesco, Milan
Albrect Dürer used the ugly trump card when dealing his painting, “Christ Among The Doctors.” It almost isn’t fair that the artist used cartoonish contrast in showing the Divine intelligence of Christ. The profiled doctor makes Homer Simpson look like a genius.
“Christ Among The Doctors”
Albrecht Dürer. 1506.
(Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)
Some traditions of the Church just get out of hand.  According to some, li’l St. Nick was so pious that he refused his mother‘s milk during a Friday fast. Whatever. Looking at this piece by an unknown artist, I think he simply got pissed off after being turned into a loaf of French bread by his ugly witch-mom. Then again, maybe it’s her creepy earrings. Or those ceramic vases on her chest.
“St. Nicholas Refusing His Mother’s Milk”
Unknown artist. Unknown date.
Now lets pull out all the stops with Max Beckmann. I looked and looked. I finally found a work of his that wasn’t sadistic or malicious or controversial – I think. The work of this German Expressionist unmasks a less-than-pristine world, but enough already with trying to offend everyone on the planet. The only thing good about Max Beckmann’s work is: It isn’t done by his contemporary, Otto Dix.
“Before The Masked Ball”
Max Beckmann. 1922.
(Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich)

NOW we’re talking ugly. Sheeesh. Before you all go hunting down prints of his no-man’s-land “Near Langemar, February 1918,” I should probably tell you that it will only get worse the farther you go skipping down Otto Dixville Lane. Don’t expect unicorns and marshmallow fluff. I’ve got the perfect place over my living room couch for Dix’s “Skull.” Maybe you should consider a similar piece. One never knows when a good conversation stopper is in order.
“Skull” Otto Dix. 1924.
(Museum of Modern Art. NY)
If you STILL haven’t gotten enough of the ugly, feel free to jump on the “Ugly babies of the Renaissance” bandwagon that’s running out of control in every corner of the web. I personally doubt that any Renaissance artist ever saw a child outside of the local freak show. The genre is top-heavy with ugliness, and it’s only a matter of time before the load spills over into every self-respecting gallery in town.


  1. Great post! It gave me a good laugh... :) I love reading your blog. I also have an author/artist page on Facebook. I make jewelry, so I post pictures of that but I also write a lot concerning my faith. You can find me at

    Thank you for your great, honest, and humorous opinions. Always cheers me up!

  2. Pure awesomeness!!!! You say what everyone thinks about art but is afraid to say. ;0)