Two blonds with bulging bosoms. A child crying next to a decapitated doll. A man with pipes protruding from his face.
That's just a sampling of intriguing images on view in the Austrian capital that all share the same label: bad painting that makes good art.
Curators of the new exhibit at Vienna's Museum of Modern Art, or MUMOK, say the phenomenon began in the 1920s and is represented in works by celebrated 20th century artists such as Rene Magritte, Francis Picabia, and Georg Baselitz.
"They challenge their medium by using a range of incorrect, bad or ugly approaches in order to attack and criticize it by its own means," a panel tells visitors entering the exhibit.
"Bad Painting — good art," which opened Thursday, takes the viewer on a fascinating tour of occasionally in-your-face creations, such as a seemingly severed and bloody foot by Baselitz, dated 1963.
There's also a large piece of fabric inscribed in black lettering with a dozen lines of German insults by Sigmar Polke, titled "Cloth of Abuse," from 1968.
In the exhibit's catalogue, MUMOK director Edelbert Koeb calls the show "the first major historical overview of a phenomenon which has undeservedly received little attention to date, offering a new, differentiated view on the history of Modern and Postmodern painting."
Particularly compelling are several works by Asger Jorn, who bought nondescript paintings at flea markets — then added his own touch.
One such image, frequently reproduced, is titled "The Avant-garde Does not Give up" and features a girl in a cream dress clutching a jump rope. The viewer is immediately drawn to Jorn's changes, which include a minute mustache and hint of a beard on the child's face.
"Cabbage" is the name of another painting modified by the Danish artist. It depicts a woman posing in an elegant off-the-shoulder evening gown, her face completely shrouded by Jorn in what could be described as a multicolored mask.
MUMOK press material explains that Jorn, toward the end of the 1950s, considered his "modifications" as a way of recognizing the value of kitsch, which he referred to as "bad painting."
Works by bad painting's so-called father figure, Picabia, are also on show. The museum describes him as an artist who, already in the 1920s, espoused jumping from style to style as an alternative to the earlier avant-gardist belief in linear progress in art.
One striking Picabia image, dated 1935, shows the face of an attractive woman completely covered in small dark spots.
The museum says artists hardly ever used bad painting continuously but rather let it shape certain periods of their careers.
"Bad painting is a strategy that no artist has followed consistently throughout his entire career, but rather deployed during specific phases as a way of opening up new possibilities for the medium," Koeb wrote.
The exhibit runs through Oct. 12.