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Oberlin showcases ‘terrible art’ from student-taught course

Exhibit tried to imitate ‘culturally enshrined definitions of artistic failure’

The gallery show of a student-led course at Oberlin College examined art that people despise.

The college’s Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space (pictured) showcased the final projects of a class called “BadArtCo” taught by fourth-year student Henry Wahlenmayer, The Oberlin Review reported May 5, noting the course investigated “terrible art.”

One student’s exhibited work involved “writhing around in fake blood atop a tarp,” according to The Review. Another student showcased a video loop of an “unprepared” comedy show at Azariah’s Café, an on-campus eatery that hosts open mic nights.

Other final projects included a dissonant music piece featuring “weird lyrics” and “a giant hay man with drawn-on tattoos,” according to The Review.

“Members of BadArtCo investigate how, why, and what makes people hate art and then attempt to emulate culturally enshrined definitions of artistic failure in their own work,” the newspaper reported.

Fourth-year Wahlenmayer taught the BadArtCo course through Oberlin’s Experimental College, which “is both a student organization and a department of the college that sponsors for-credit courses taught by Oberlin students, administrators, townspeople, and faculty,” according to its website.

“Everyone has their own notion of what makes art ‘good art,’ and, chances are, that notion has less to do with personal taste and more to do with social and cultural trends,” according to The Review.

The student paper continued:

After all, the lens through which we see the world is largely a culturally constructed phenomenon. …

In many ways, BadArtCo is like an inverted Art History and Studio Art crossover, with the added element of hands-on experimentation. Final projects comprise anything from dissonant music with weird lyrics to a giant hay man with drawn-on tattoos.

All in all, Wahlenmayer’s ExCo aims to probe and mimic the smorgasbord that is the contemporary art world, but from the central vantage point of “bad art” with a giant question mark at the end.

Members of BadArtCo investigate how, why, and what makes people hate art and then attempt to emulate culturally enshrined definitions of artistic failure in their own work.

“Thereʼs just this weird, long history of radical expression at Oberlin,” Wahlenmeyer told The Review.

“We wanted to kind of tap into that with this class because I think we have gotten a lot more tame as a campus, which is not necessarily a bad thing,” he said.

“But it is kind of fun to provide an atmosphere for people to just do something really wacky and weird, whether thatʼs creating an absolutely unlistenable song or weird performance art,” according to Wahlenmeyer.

MORE: Yale axes problematic art history course focused on Western art, student claims

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About the Author
assistant editor
Maggie has previously worked as an associate editor of Columbia magazine, an editorial assistant at DNAinfo.com, and an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Phoenix. She holds a B.A. from New York University and lives in Philadelphia.