Embracing ‘The Power of Negative Thinking’ at New Art Center

An amusing new exhibit celebrates the joy of pessimism.


Pessimists. They’re the Debbie Downers of every conversation, the party pooper killing your buzz, and the dark cloud raining on your parade.

Or are they?

Without negativity, people can’t appreciate the positive, argues Waltham resident Michael Gaughran, a self-described lifelong pessimist. And there’s comedy to be found in Negative Nelly’s view of the world.

To prove it, Gaughran has curated a new exhibit called “The Power of Negative Thinking,” which opens this weekend at New Art Center in Newton.

The collection shows a variety of works that illustrate the lighter side of pessimism, such as a glittery pink bouquet of depression, despair, and death; a ladder you’re prohibited from walking under, and a critical phrase printed on a banner lifted into the air by happy face balloons that will slowly deflate throughout the duration of the exhibit.

“People think that if you are a pessimist, then you are miserable and gloomy. … When you’re a pessimist, people always feel that it’s appropriate to correct you and tell you that your way of thinking is wrong,” Gaughran says.

He hopes that “The Power of Negative Thinking” will demonstrate how that perception is incorrect. The exhibit will hopefully make people laugh and see the humor in negative thinking.

power of negativity logo

Logo by Anthony Montuori

The most interactive installation will be three video games created by Anthony Montuori of Malden. The will be fully playable and set up in the exhibit like a mini arcade.

Here’s the twist: Montuori programmed the video games to be unwinnable. The scenarios depicted in his games imitate real life in ways that are fun and agonizing at the same time.

For example, in one of the games, a re-creation of the first Super Mario, levels represent the days of a week, and the character’s goal is to run through, go to work, and earn a paycheck. Montuori programmed the levels to repeat over and over again for the length of the average American lifespan. The levels don’t get progressively harder as you play; instead, the character ages, and has more and more difficulty making it through the day because he cannot run as quickly or jump as high.

If a player somehow makes it through a lifespan, the game ends, and the character dies. Or, more likely, when the exhibit is over, Montuori will literally pull the plug. No heaven. No reincarnation. Life over, game over.

Tragic? Yes.

Hilarious? Also yes.

“They’re a reference to video games themselves being pointless. But deeper, there’s also a threat of nihilism,” Gaughran says. “There’s a moment when you’re playing the video game and you realize it’s a critique on you for even participating.”

Gaughran believes that very few people can be optimists naturally, and the goal for this exhibit is to show visitors that not only is it OK to be negative, but also that those feelings are perfectly valid.

A series of public programs accompany the exhibit, including a “Pity Party” in February, where guests will be encouraged to be their honest negative selves.

So go ahead. Complain about how sore your feet are. It’ll only make kicking off your shoes later feel that much more relieving.


“The Power of Negative Thinking” runs January 16 through February 21 at New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville, 617-964-3424. Learn more at newartcenter.org.