Art Basel: What is Bad Art?

by Thomas Chatterton Williams

The French-American artist Nina Childress has built a decades-spanning career around the indefatigable interrogation of ‘bad’ art and taste. Shaped by the rebellious spirit of punk rock, her approach has always been heterodox and fluid. Since the 1980s, the painter has relied on a wide variety of aesthetic strategies and styles, from blurred compositions evocative of Gerhard Richter’s photo paintings to garish oil-on-canvas recreations of 1960s nudist films. Yet despite her best efforts, these works intrigue and please the eye, colliding received notions of high and low, and scrambling oversimplified conceptions of good and bad.


Following the dual publication of her hefty catalogue raisonné, Nina Childress: 1081 Peintures, and a slim and playful autobiography last September, I met Childress at her tidy apartment in the 10th arrondissement. We happen to be neighbors. The artist teaches painting at the Beaux-Arts de Paris and keeps a studio in the suburbs. She’s friendly, softly-spoken, and modest in her dress – were I to pass her on the street I could easily imagine she were the principal of the local middle school. For Childress, 2023 is going to be a busy year: ‘Cils, poils, cheveux’ is on until April 23 at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland and UNISEXE will open at Art:Concept in Paris in mid-May. Back at her flat, we sipped green tea from her collection of mugs emblazoned with portraits of the British royal family, while workers noisily repaired a patch of roof outside her doorway.


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January 19, 2023