Shopping for Schlock
New England is home to the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), which is dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting, and celebrating bad art. Miami boasts Art Fusion Galleries, which seems dedicated to selling it.
MOBA is housed in the basement of the Dedham Community Theatre outside a men's bathroom, where at any given time it exhibits no more than 25 of the 250 pieces in its permanent holdings a collection of bad art in "all its forms and in all its glory," according to MOBA's Website.
Art Fusion is located in the Design District in a gaudy 4000-square-foot showroom, where it crams nearly 1000 works into each show.
MOBA looks for original work that would never hang in a museum or commercial gallery, of a quality that "grabs you by the throat and won't let go," and typically rejects nearly 90 percent of all submissions in an effort to maintain its low standards.
At Art Fusion, any artist willing to pony up some cash can exhibit his or her work regardless of how godawful it is. Much of the work on display at the gallery may well end up at MOBA someday.
Astonishingly Art Fusion's affable William Braemer, the gallery's director, says he sold 183 works during the last show and that the space is approaching seven figures in yearly sales.
Here is how Art Fusion operates: For $1650 a year, artists clinch fifteen feet of wall space during one of the three-month group exhibits the gallery switches out four times a year. On its roster, the gallery lists 150 international artists who are also showcased in Art Fusion's publicity as part of the deal.
The artistic criterion for inclusion in the gallery's stable seems to be a penchant for cranking out wildly colorful stuff in the $500 to $8000 range.
"I like showing work that is vibrantly colorful and that is crazy, edgy, and uplifting," Braemer says, adding he receives about 100 portfolio submissions from artists each week.
Braemer dismisses with a wave notions that the art he is peddling is bad. "I know a lot of it is considered decorative, but I cater to mostly clients with a $500,000 mortgage who want to come home from their jobs as realtors or stock brokers and look at a fun piece of art they have purchased and smile."
Art Fusion's current exhibit, "Ever-changing Spectrums," features paintings, drawings, and sculptures by a group of creative types from a stable that veers toward fluctuating without restraint.
It's difficult imagining anyone getting giddy over let alone scooping up work by Jordan Robert. Yet the young artist is one of Art Fusion's top sellers. His canvases are a daffy pastiche of Roy Lichtenstein's and Romero Britto's work. Robert's shameless clip jobs often frappé snippets of cartoon women with flat fields of dots and squiggles, resulting in a heinous mishmash that stands the hair on end.
Jacklyn Laflamme is another artist who slings color as if miraculously gifted with an ability to squeeze rainbows out of paint tubes. Her Petite Cream Glacee, a sticky acrylic-on-canvas confection, depicts a Tastee Freez cone rendered in antifreeze-green and carambola-chutney hues. She has wrapped the small painting's edges with a strip of feathery pink marabou fringe. Cosmopolitan, another of her schizzy eyesores, depicts a bunch of skyscrapers topped by an olive fizzling in a martini glass.
Croatian Roman Zalac is among the few artists at Art Fusion whose stuff is so nasty it might top the ranks of the MOBA collection someday.
Although it's obvious he's been boning up on Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Zalac's work shows some wacky originality and is among the odd offerings that coat the craw like a shot of curdled milk.
His Saint Poet depicts a lipstick-wearing martyr crowned by a gold-leaf halo and surrounded by a bushel of luminous fluttering butterflies chained to the figure's frock. In Shore Leave, Zalac has placed a nude contortionist hooker front and center; a sailor behind her covers her crotch with his exaggeratedly large paw. A thicket of weirdly angled houses and a sliver of ocean leech across the top of the painting.
Sasha Sadovnik's dreary canvases make for some of the more disturbing imagery in the show.
Braemer calls Sadovnik his "modern-day Caravaggio." Her large self-portraits employ a lot of chiaroscuro and often convey the emotional turbulence she has experienced in her relationships with men. In Wonderland she renders herself not unlike one of Lisa Yuskavage's blonds. Where Yuskavage often depicts her women in scenes that reflect a sense of postcoital repose, Sadovnik portrays herself with a sense of childish innocence and is seen cradling two ducks against her chest.
Fondle This, one of the artist's darker pieces, shows Sadovnik, holding a toy in one hand and a cigarette in the other, after a breakup with a local club owner. She has used a heavy impasto to render her face haggard, as if she felt used up after getting ditched.
In the back of the gallery, Art Fusion has isolated Alexandra Spyratos's paintings of herding zebras, depicted mostly from behind, in a room filled with black lights. The space also includes a red leather modular couch and, on a table surrounded by candles, a stainless-steel turgid penis sculpture by Caroline Jourdan-Tabac. The sound of jungle birds cawing splits the air in the room, which exudes a Super Fly meets National Geographic vibe.
After exiting the pimped-out nook, I asked Braemer, also an artist, if he had any qualms that serious art lovers might perceive Art Fusion as little more than a glorified flea market for bad art.
"I don't care about that stuff; we are not a pretentious place," he said. "When I learned that a Rothko sold for millions, I painted Rothko Lives and got $2000 for it," he added, motioning to one of his Rothko knockoffs in the window of the Pronto Framing shop across the street.
Braemer won't dicker about the quality of his gallery's art and says with a smile he's happy to negotiate prices.
Art, after all, is a luxury item, he reminds and a serious investment. "Anyone can buy a used car for the price of a painting, but we want people to go home with something they will enjoy so much more."
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Miami and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.