Here Are 6 of the Worst Artworks We Saw All Year

Not everything is, well, good.

New works by Damien Hirst at Gagosian's booth at Frieze London. Photo: Linda Nylind, courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect on the past 12 months. Amid the busy art world calendar, Artnet News has visited gallery shows, museum exhibitions, biennials, and art fairs across the globe. But while we’ve seen some amazing art, there are also the inevitable misses—works that are ill-conceived, badly executed, or merely in poor taste.

As we say goodbye to 2023, we’re also calling out the year’s biggest disappointments in art. These pieces we wish we could forget, the ones we wish artists had left on the drawing room floor, the ones perhaps better relegated to the ash bin of art history.

Here are our writers and editors’ picks for the worst works of the year.

“The Dungeon Master” et al, from Meta
Instagram, launched September 2023


Screenshot of Meta’s @meetthedungeonmaster account, featuring the likeness of Snoop Dogg.

A.I.-art experiments were the big thing this year, so I was going to mention Refik Anadol’s “Unsupervised” at MoMA. In the texts around that show, you could feel in real-time the long-hated “art-speak”—garbled references to “indexicality” or Foucault or whatever—mutating into an equally mystifying “art-tech-speak,” where just saying the word “algorithm” is supposed to suggest sophistication, and references to datasets stand in for a meaning that’s not there.

But then it occurred to me: Anadol’s slick work looks like the absolute peak of soulfulness next to Meta’s ungodly A.I.-art chatbot experiments—and the latter much more represent how A.I. is getting slopped into every part of our lives. Meta got the rights to the likenesses of multiple celebs, then cloned them as avatars, re-named them, and gave them cutesy personas, trying to get you psyched for their Llama A.I. and A.I.-art tools. Thus, Paris Hilton is reborn as “Amber, Detective Partner for Solving Whodunnits,” Tom Brady becomes “Bru, Wisecracking Sports Debater Who Pulls No Punches,” Naomi Osaka is reimagined as “Tamika, Anime-Obsessed Sailor Senshi In Training,” and so on.

Even if I think that a lot of what audiences like about Refik Anadol’s art is actually just extremely big and high-res screens, combined with blinking lights and movement, there is some cool stagecraft to them, and thought that goes into them as experiences. They are pleasant (just not that deep).

Meta’s A.I. avatars, on the other hand…  Go to the Instagram pages, and you will see just how shitty the cultural environment is likely to become thanks to this new A.I. onslaught (and keep in mind: This company laid off most of its actual art division last year). The effect is somehow desperate to please, but also shoddy.

There, you find Snoop Dogg’s A.I. alter-ego, “The Dungeon Master,” trying to get your attention with cringe “Elven Name Generator” memes and A.I.-generated fantasy art in that synthetic, greasy style that is flooding the internet because of A.I., where it looks OK, but up close the details are all slightly mutant, because so little effort has actually gone into calibrating the output.

There, you will find Meta’s Kendall Jenner clone, “Billie,” posting an inexplicably disgusting A.I.-generated pumpkin pie, cut as if an alien had been trying to figure out what it was, with the chirpy caption “friendsgiving complete with good food and even better people 🤎 what is everyone grateful for? #ImaginedWithAI.” What… is… this? Why… is.. this??

Basically, you have one of the world’s most sophisticated tech firms, driving the whole direction of travel for this movement, and this is the most twee, half-baked crap. It doesn’t matter how potent the tech is when the creative vision is this bankrupt—and from these efforts, they really do seem to think that they have automated away the need to actually put any effort into a creative vision. It’s a critical cliché to call Anadol’s fluid-simulator works “screensavers,” and a critical cliché to call stuff like Meta’s ghastly A.I. avatars “Black Mirror territory,” but, you know, it is what it is…

—Ben Davis


It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby (2023)
On view at the Brooklyn Museum, New York
(June 2–September 24, 2023)

Entrance to "It's Pablo-matic"

Entrance to “It’s Pablo-matic” at the Brooklyn Museum, with Cecily Brown, Triumph of the Vanities II (2018). Photo by Ben Davis.

Anadol’s Unsupervised was also in consideration for me here, mostly due to the breathless way it was received and debated, but also because of the artwork’s own inability to articulate the substance under its style. Unsupervised was fun enough to look at, but a more revealing exercise was looking at all the people that frequently gathered before it, empty-eyed, taking videos on their phone. To me, that said it all. 

Instead, I’ll go with another 2023 lightning rod: the exhibition “It’s Pablo-matic: Picasso According to Hannah Gadsby” at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  

Look, I did not find the exhibition as offensive as others did, and the faint paternalistic whiff coming from some critics’ takedowns almost made me want to like it in defense. But the show had real flaws. It was, somehow, both underthought and overwrought—another example of a museum trying to cheat itself into the discourse. Maybe—hopefully—the best thing we can say about “It’s Pablo-matic” someday is that it was the last exhibition of its kind. 

—Taylor Dafoe


Tala Madani: Biscuits
On view at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles
(September 10, 2022–February 19, 2023)

Tala Madani, <em>Shit Mother I</em> (2019). Photo by Jeff McLane, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery.

Tala Madani, Shit Mother I (2019). Photo by Jeff McLane, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery.

I was intrigued to catch the last days of Tala Madani’s first North American survey show during my trip to Los Angeles for Frieze. The Iranian painter first became known for her feminist skewering of male figures, depicting them in grotesque fashion, often with distended members. (In one video animation, a man sitting alone in a darkened movie theater unzips his pants and is smacked around by his snakelike penis as it emerges, growing larger and larger.)

In 2019, after giving birth, Madani began a series she calls “Shit Moms.” The titular female figure appears to be formed from globs of brown poop, and is totally overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood. She stains her surroundings—but not her children—with her filth. In another canvas, the babies are eating her body, which lies exhausted on the ground.

I appreciate the themes of Madani’s work, but I was underwhelmed by the paintings themselves. I understand they are meant to be unappealing, but visually, they just didn’t do anything for me. The drab colors, the simplistic compositions, and the gloppy brushwork all left me unimpressed. For me, the absurdist concepts satirizing the patriarchy simply weren’t backed up with enough actual artistry.

—Sarah Cascone


Pipilotti Rist,“Prickling Goosebumps & a Humming Horizon”
On view at Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine, New York City
(November 9, 2023 –January 13, 2024)

Pipilotti Rist, “Prickling Goosebumps & a Humming Horizon” at Hauser & Wirth. Photo by Annie Armstrong.

When I was in college, I was one of the attendees that helped the New Museum break New York’s record for institutional attendance when Pipilotti Rist’s “Pixel Forest” came to town in 2016. I remember lying beneath the ethereal projections and feeling very buoyant and dreamy. I was excited to see if I’d get a similar feeling when I stepped into Hauser & Wirth’s joint show with Luhring Augustine early this fall, and felt pretty confident I would, as the show was titled “Prickling Goosebumps & a Humming Horizon.

Maybe I’m older and more cynical now, but the experience I was met with felt more akin to visiting a gimmicky immersive exhibition than floating through space. The artist launched a series of furniture pieces to go with the show, and attendees waited in line to have a sit on a wooden rocking chair or a well-worn looking canvas couch. Rist’s show felt like it fit in a little too well to the current state of New York, which gets eaten up by those immersive exhibits and the cloying pop-up brand activations that beg for attention on Instagram.

—Annie Armstrong


Damien Hirst, The Secret Garden Paintings (2023)
On view with Gagosian at Frieze London
(October, 2023)

A visitor looks at "Garden of Expression" and "Beautiful Garden" by Damien Hirst at Frieze Masters Art Fair in Regent's Park in London on October 11, 2023. Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images.

A visitor looks at “Garden of Expression” and “Beautiful Garden” by Damien Hirst at Frieze Masters Art Fair in Regent’s Park in London on October 11, 2023. Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images.

Those who visited Frieze London this year will not soon forget the sight of  Damien Hirst’s paintings of flowers mounted on the walls of the very prominent booth of Gagosian. Described as a special solo presentation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fair, the booth featured The Secret Gardens Paintings (2023), a new body of work by the richest visual artist in the U.K. “I want The Secret Gardens Paintings to feel like the hope and futility we get when we try to control nature,” Hirst said in a statement.

The outcome, of course, did not meet the expectations. None of the people I know who saw the paintings was impressed at all. It was also famously trashed by the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, possibly the only art review that went viral this year—even those who do not go to art shows forwarded me the URL to the article. That coupled with the changing hands of Frieze from being an original disruptor of the art world to now being a part of the Hollywood agency Endeavor made things even more pessimistic.

And as for me, I admit that I was startled by the works, and beyond that, puzzled. Why did Hirst even create these paintings? Last year, his NFT project The Currency proved that Hirst was still very much in the game by challenging the NFT hype (no one talks about NFTs today and those 5,129 “currency holders” who kept the painting proved themselves right). The splashes of paint on the canvases surface that the press release described as “an abstract layer” and “a dynamic network of bright splatters” appeared instead as a failed attempt to conceal the mistakes in these paintings. In the end, my respect goes to the publicists who tried (unsuccessfully) to create meaning for these paintings.

—Vivienne Chow


Released February 2023

MSCHF's Big Red Boots via Instagram account @hartcopy.

MSCHF’s Big Red Boots via Instagram account @hartcopy.

Give me $350 and I promise you I will find anything… literally anything better and likely nothing worse than the viral sensation that was art collective MSCHF’s Big Red Boots. I was speechless when a trendy West Coast friend told me he was desperate for a pair, and felt even worse when I accidentally wound up strolling behind someone sporting them on the Lake Michigan waterfront heading to EXPO Chicago.  The sight of them gives me a headache! But that didn’t stop them from selling out shortly after they were introduced in February of this year.

Eileen Kinsella

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