Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Official Bad Art Museum of Art, aka The OBAMA

We all know where to go to see “great” art. But what about really “bad” art? Where do you see that collection?Well, you are in luck because Seattle has its very own Official Bad Art Museum of Art. It’s The “OBAMA.” The collection’s curators are the Seattle couple Marlow Harris and Jo David.

Club House for the Creative

The museum is housed inside Cafe Racer, a blue, nondescript coffee house and bar right at the edge of the University District in Seattle.

The people who hang out here are burlesque artists, cartoonists, musicians and the occasional sword swallower. It’s a club house for the creative. To get into the “OBAMA” isn’t easy. Joe David says the artwork has to meet a certain standard."

“It’s a piece that started out with the right intentions and then something horribly went wrong along the way.”

Yes, the pieces are bad, but they are still interesting to view. The collection goes well beyond "Dogs Playing Poker."

Dozens of paintings line the wall salon style. There are babies with big eyes and cheesy nudes, which are in a room off to the side for a little privacy. Someone spent hours making a contemplative rabbi in needlepoint and Van Gogh’s "Starry Night" is executed in a lot of yarn.

The Minds Behind The Idea

Joe David and his wife, Marlow Harris came up with the idea for the OBAMA. It’s one of their many jokes that have taken on a life of its own. These are the same people who started Seattle’s annual Elvis impersonation contest which now draws “Elvi” from around the world.

Some days it’s like Christmas at Cafe Racer. A few paintings might be left outside before it opens. No notes, just the unspoken understanding that they are meant for the walls of the OBAMA.

Sometimes pieces arrive in the mail. One was even sent from California. David and Harris say they have so much really “bad art” that they are paying people $5 to take the dregs away for good.

They give me an abstract portrait. It’s just the head. It’s done in oil pastels, which makes it really messy. I lay it on the table and Kurt Gissel, the owner of Cafe Racer, gives it a big thumbs down.

"I mean does this capture anything? Does this say anything to you? It doesn't warrant a second look!

I took the drawing home with every intention of taking a picture of it to show all of you, but before I got around to doing that, my husband took it out with the trash.


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.