Jennifer Sullivan- Bad Means Good

Jennifer Sullivan Paintings

When I first saw Jennifer Sullivan’s work I didn’t like it. But after looking at it for a few days it’s slowly growing on me. At first glance the paintings may seem naive and referencing the late 90’s craze of “bad painting” but I think there are some interesting things going on in the work that deserve a closer look.

Make sure to visit her site and explore the installations that sometimes accompany the work as well as Jennifer’s hilarious “feelings/Ideas” section where she ponders everything from “art based outfits”┬áto “Artists That I Think Are Really Cool”.

Jennifer Sullivan Paintings

Jennifer Sullivan Paintings

Jennifer Sullivan Paintings

Jennifer Sullivan Paintings

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  • i saw a performance of hers a while ago, which i found kind of annoying… but im not really a good judge of performances and find most talking annoying after a few minutes. i don’t even remember there being paintings, but these are cool. i definitely understand the “bad painting” reference, but i actually think what she does with color is reasonably hard to pull off.
    thats a lot of buts.

  • julian

    bad actaully tends to mean bad, sorry; art is no exception to this, but people still seem to be able to make it be, and in turn make a living off it.

  • alex m

    this is genuinely some of the worst work i have seen in a long, long time.

  • Amir

    I think there are some interesting aspects of the work from the color to the composition to the subject matter.

  • actually, i think art is an exception to this because the word ceases to have a defineable meaning. i think amir used the word in a common phrase that has been used to describe a trend. but i dont think you can just say something is bad and have that be a valid reason. do you mean unrealistic? childlike? purposeless? etc…
    and even those things can be totally valid as art, in my mind.

  • jason

    I think onions are bad. Maybe evil in some cases.
    Onion rings are good sometimes.

  • but not the thick cut onion rings

  • Alfred

    “I think there are some interesting things going on in the work that deserve a closer look.” Great! I agree! So why don’t you tell us about these so-called “things”? Perhaps this article is referencing “bad writing”! Incidentally, “Bad Painting” was an exhibition at the New Museum in 1978 ( so by the “late 90s” this way of working would have already ceased to raise eyebrows. I should also note that “bad painting” was an ironic title that actually meant “good painting” and refers to a tradition rooted in Cubism and Fauvism. I don’t think Sullivan’s work is actually concerned so much with continuing a rebellious “bad painting” discourse, however, as much as it is with reasserting the possibility of “authenticity” in art.

  • Amir

    Alfred, I think the term “Bad Painting” extends beyond the show at the New Museum. I was thinking more along the lines of Brad Kahlhamer and Sean Landers. Both paint in very different ways but I think the term could still apply.

    Although I agree that Jennifer’s work isn’t groundbreaking there are some redeeming formal aspects. It’s easy to write off messy or loose painting. However I think that there is a lot of control within the work that deserves some merit.

    At the end of the day to each their own.

  • Andy

    I think that this work does, to some degree, fall into the tradition of “Bad Painting”, but there hasn’t been much discussion of the stakes of that style, or its defining characteristics.

    “Bad Painting” at the New Museum included William Wegman, Joan Brown, William N. Copley, and Neil Jenney, (all “respectable” – and, in my opinion, good – artists). Wikipedia’s entry on the term extends it to include such revered painters as Rene Magritte (a bit of a misfit in the bunch) and Phillip Guston. More broadly, lots if not most radical and adventurous painting has been considered “bad” at the time it was made, and still sits badly with many audiences. I think Alfred was right to connect the tradition back to Cubism and Fauvism, but I’d venture to extend it further to include painters like Ensor, Munch, and Goya.

    I think the impulse towards “bad painting” has something to do with getting away from the concerns of verisimilitude, symbology, and prettiness that have often distracted figurative painting from other, perhaps more pressing concerns like emotional force, directness of address, formal experimentation, and engagement with mystery. I’d argue that “bad painting”, in this case and others, is often an approach that painters take to engage more directly, and without the barriers of expertise virtuosity between themselves and their audience. If somebody’s busy being awed, or wondering “how’d he do that?” they might never get beyond that to wrestle with more important questions about how the work might relate to them.

    I happen to think that the “badness” of Jennifer’s paintings describes the directness and urgency i experience in them. At the end of the day, yes, you can take the work or leave it, but you can’t simiply dismiss it by simply calling it “bad.”

  • I know so little about art that I can understand it. It is the effect it has on viewer – 100%. These works speak of creativity, place in the world and love.