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‘Dammit’ by Alexander Glass
Photograph Alexander Glass

Is there such a thing as Bad Art?

London-based artist Anna Choutova's upcoming exhibition challenges the traditions of contemporary art

At the turn of the 20th century, something began to change in the world of art. An increase in the industry led to a rapid fire of mass manufactured goods, advertising, and a desire for consumption.

Artists like Duchamp took everyday objects and put them in the halls of galleries – they called it art; Roy Lichtenstein's loud pop art canvases tugged at the ear of traditional portrayals of gender roles - in the name of art; Jackson Pollock’s masculine expressionist paintings resembled angry splatters of paint on a canvas - buyers went crazy for this new form of art. Suddenly, art did not live in the portraits of wealthy families in their summer estates, but in giant balloon dogs, Campbell soup cans, unmade beds.

Bad Art, an exhibition by London-based artist and curator Anna Choutova, is a celebration of all things deemed unsuitable in the world of high art. It aims to answer questions like, “why is some art bad whole other art hangs gloriously in the National Gallery / why is one person’s pretty landscape another person’s epitome of kitsch?” The show, opening at Bones and Pearl Studios, will feature an array of painting, drawing, video and sculpture and will aim to challenge traditional expectations of the subject, technique or seriousness in contemporary art. We caught up with the show’s curator to discuss all things art, humour, and banality.

In your opinion, what is art?

Anna Choutova: Art is where language fails. Music, poetry, visual art exist to fill the space of what we cannot say explicitly. It is is the physical manifestation of our reality – I like to eat so I paint food.

Is art ever bad?

Anna Choutova: Yes. Bad Art is unchallenging, safe, and stale. Art that has nothing new to offer, nothing interesting to bring to the table. Background noise if you will, elevator music. I think that the worst art is art that has the least capacity to be disliked by the viewer. But it’s not like I’m going around being “good, good, bad, bad good, good, good, bad, bad, BAD” The point of this show is to point the finger at the people who do, do that. The whole idea behind the show started when I overheard someone critiquing a painting, “my five year old could have done that”. Who ever decided that a childish technique equals bad art? What does that mean for an artist like Cy Twombly, who is considered a contemporary genius?

Why do you think people see some art as better than others?

Anna Choutova: Taste, trend, trend chasers… In my experience the most genuine answer I can dish out is scale. Word of advice to all painters trying to find their way – MAKE IT BIG. People fucking love massive paintings. I was on my last term of uni and predicted a 2:1 and I rang up my sister and she was like, “dude just make them enormous you’ll graduate top of class, worked for me” , and she was kind of right. I was literally painting the same shit I was painting earlier but on a 7x7 foot canvas and suddenly everyone started digging it. Scale (tried and tested) = good art (apparently).

Can you explain how you chose the pieces you did for the exhibition?

Anna Choutova: Whatever made me laugh, whatever didn't take itself too seriously. Most of the work in Bad Art is about food, sex or painfully ordinary moments in life – spilling a glass of juice, opening the fridge door. My mission as an artist is to give these moments the spotlight they deserve, to award the mundane and the ordinary god-like status. Truth is, my life would crumble before my very eyes (probably) if I didn’t own an extension cord, or loo roll, sliced bread. These are the heroes that deserve to be immortalised in my art.

“Art is where language fails. Music, poetry, visual art exist to fill the space of what we cannot say explicitely” – Anna Choutova

How are you aiming to change the perceptions of art? Can you explain?

Anna Choutova: Bad Art is challenging the seriousness of art and bring the forbidden sound of laughter into an art gallery. I think humour in contemporary art is so criminally underrated. Once you laugh you've crossed that terrifying threshold of not understanding art and you've successfully interacted with it. I want to help people to stop worrying about the intellectual implications of the work they see in front of them. I know too many people who are too intimidated by the art world to feel confident enough to even form their own opinions about a piece of work. I want people to realise that when it comes to evaluating art, all that really matters is one thing: you like what you see?

Is art taken too seriously?

Anna Choutova: It should be taken as seriously as one takes themselves. Art exists in tandem with our own existence, not aside it. If you can separate your art from the rest of your life, your hearts not in it. I might sit around and paint olives and hotdogs all day but their my babies. I’ll put it this way, you don’t have to paint serious things to be a serious artist. One of the most ‘serious’ artists I know spent a year painting paintings of her table because she found it beautiful. 

Can you explain why you chose the two YouTube videos to feature in the exhibition 

Anna Choutova: Firstly those youtube videos fucking hilarious. I watched them at 4 am and sent the artist (Alejandra morote peralta) some bizarre email saying that shes a genius and I need her in my show… that good. And also what better way to really underline the BAD in Bad Art than sticking a couple of youtube videos in the show. I am trying to undermine the proper, uptight vibe of a standard white walled gallery (good) with a weird show full of art about food and sex in a warehouse with a bizarre amount of free ale – (Shoutout to Wild Card for sponsoring us).

Bad Art is on show at London's Bones and Pearl Studio until 15 May, 2016