The Art of Celebrity: The Celebrated Genre of Bad Art

By: Madeline Walsh
May 19, 2014

Bad art is everywhere. Thanks to the Internet, it’s becoming far too easy for celebrities to promote their bad art. Unfortunately, the general consensus is it’s inescapable. Meanwhile, we are left to wonder: is this bad celebrity art the new pop art of now? Or is the public being played by the business of megagalleries?

James Franco, "New Film Still #20," 2013 Gelatin Silver Print  Pace Gallery, New York
James Franco, “New Film Still #20,” 2013
Gelatin Silver Print
Pace Gallery, New York

Egregious examples of fine art and performance pieces are the two main categories with which celebrity-made art can be classified. Few would disagree that the Internet has added a new dimension to the business of being a celebrity. Over the years there have been increasing numbers of celebrity social experiments. Each never ceases to amaze and captivate us, pointing to our undying devotion to and obsession with celebrity. The issue of celebrity in relation to art takes a few forms. Idolization leads to a forced-fed public diet of celebrity-generated bad art. And influence, has consumers constantly craving public meltdowns and performance pieces.

Anonymous, "Charlie and Sheba" Oil On Canvas Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) Poor Traits Collection, Boston
Anonymous, “Charlie and Sheba”
Oil On Canvas
Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) Poor Traits Collection, Boston

Fine art failures are not a figment of our imagination. They are real, and real bad. Bad Art has been and continues to be a genre of its own. There is even a Museum of Bad Art that shows an astounding collection of rare finds and great hits, bringing new meaning to the adage “so bad, it’s good.” The aspiring creative is unfortunately part of our world. Sadly, celebrities are not free of this affliction. James Franco is a prime example. The man maintains an impressive collection of degrees and awards for his creative accomplishments. Yet, why does his overhyped artwork make us so simultaneously embarrassed and intrigued?

Image of James Franco Painting Selfies Via: Instagram @jamesfrancotv
Image of James Franco Painting Selfies
Via: Instagram @jamesfrancotv

Hot items in the actor’s current repertoire include oil paints of his popular Instagram selfies and a shot-by-shot recreation of Cindy Sherman’s “Film Stills.” The latter was the centerpiece of Vulture writer Jerry Saltz’s stand on today’s big bucks gallery world. While I respect the celebrity’s earnest interest in creating art, why are we still stuck looking at such juvenile work?

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962 Acrylic Paint On Canvas Tate Collection
Andy Warhol, Marilyn Diptych, 1962
Acrylic Paint On Canvas
Tate Collection

Pop art pioneer Andy Warhol’s quirky commentary on consumerism is an interesting foil for the phenomenon. His popular image of Marilyn Monroe has become an icon within the Pop Art movement. While easily written off as fluff, the repetitive image makes a strong and lasting statement about the isolation, enigma and eternity of celebrity status. Each colorful reproduction of Monroe’s image signals the world’s insatiable obsession with the sad starlet, which eventually contributed to her demise. Marilyn’s bright image flashes like a prophetic warning sign that echoes into eternity. This piece is apt analogy for the trajectory of current celebrity and megagallery collaborations.

 

 

With the power of a big name celebrity and a big name gallery backing the exhibition, it’s hard to fathom how such bad art could be endorsed with such great scale. It is safe to say Pace Gallery‘s previous star-studded shows, such as Jay-Z’s performance of “Picasso Baby” was not only a runaway success but a valid conversation about modern art and culture. Although celebrity can bring in crowds, it doesn’t always bring in great content. Therein lies the issue at the crux of business and art. These days the medium is heavily manipulated and monopolized by megagalleries. Showcased work is no longer chosen for the content but for the sale. As Saltz explains, the game is rigged and “artists in these galleries are trapped.” The megagallery business model focuses on financial gain and leaves little room for artists to grow. Artists are often forced to shift to mass-production mode to pay for gallery staff and amenities. Also, big name galleries are cashing in on the fame factor. Pace need do nothing more than sit back and rope off an orderly queue when showing Franco’s “New Film Stills.”  In other words, fame is a key ingredient in the free publicity formula.

Joaquin Phoenix During Performance Art Phase Photo: Collider.com
Joaquin Phoenix During Performance Art Phase
Photo: Collider.com

Moreover, this trend feeds an ugly and ravenous consumer group born out of the reality tv industry. Joaquin Phoenix’s failed performance piece set the current precedent for viewer skepticism. The actor publicly renounced his career and claimed to be forging a new path through rap music. Media outlets trailed the story for days to find the root of this bizarre behavior, only to find out it was part of a larger marketing ploy for Phoenix’s upcoming film. Now, American consumers expect to find a larger truth embedded within celebrity activity, and are obsessed with uncovering it. The problem is, these public displays may not be imbued with any significance outside of gallery greed.

Shia LeBeouf Wearing "I Am Not Famous Anymore" Paper Bag at The Berlin International Film Festival, 2014 Photo: DailyMail
Shia LeBeouf Wearing “I Am Not Famous Anymore” Paper Bag at The Berlin International Film Festival, 2014
Photo: DailyMail

Bad celebrity-made art pieces are showcased in famous galleries like relics of a larger pop culture religious experience. When celebrities are idolized as creative geniuses, people are robbed of time they could be spending looking at meaningful art. So many of us are obsessed with the shallow and superficial world of celebrity, but we still crave something deeper and more intellectual from it. This growing trend of chain galleries and celebrity art is important, no doubt. The bigger question is, what kind of attention do we pay it and how much?

 

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