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.
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.
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.