Most art museums have one thing in common, whether they’re Renaissance, modern, or contemporary, European, Asian, or African: at least supposedly, they contain art that’s good. Boring, right?
But one museum, located in the heart of Massachusetts, has finally broken the monotony. MOBA, or the Museum of Bad Art, specializes in art that no other art museum would trouble with. In fact, some of their most treasured pieces were thrown away – including the foundational portrait that set the whole MOBA in motion. Lucy in the Field with Flowers, oil on canvas by unknown, was found in the trash by Scott Wilson, who cofounded the museum in 1993 with the first executive director, Jerry Reilly.
Since then, MOBA has flourished, with Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director Louise Sacco at the helm since Mr. Reilly passed the baton. Featured in such varied publications as Wired Magazine, the NorthEast Traveler, and the Sunday Times of South Africa, MOBA has also garnered some press and has just published its second book featuring the collection, The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks. The first book, The Museum of Bad Art, is still available for sale online.
And yet, MOBA is still not widely known, with many – if not most – art patrons still inexplicably preferring to spend their weekends viewing art with pretensions to quality. The museum’s dedicated and selfless staff, therefore, spends much of their time working on ways to expand the bad art audience. The Web site is one way they’re achieving this, the books are another; taking bad art on the road, Sacco told me in a recent phone conversation, is one of the current goals of the museum’s publicity efforts.
Some might scoff at the idea of a traveling collection from the Museum of Bad Art, simply because the art is bad. But depending on your point of view, the artworks collected by MOBA are at least as instructive, and far more entertaining, than the average pieces displayed in a museum of modern art.
Like the average modern painting, the MOBA pieces are difficult to interpret without the perspective of an expert, which is why the museum’s staff have penned a few words to explain and enrich each piece in the collection. In this columnist’s humble opinion, one of the most compelling works in MOBA is Peter the Kitty, pictured here. “Stirring in its portrayal of feline angst,” reads the museum’s description of this horrendous masterpiece. “Is Peter hungry or contemplating his place in a hungry world? The artist has evoked both hopelessness and glee with his irrational use of negative space.”
MOBA has proven, in this case at least, that a picture is worth exactly thirty-three words.
The museum isn’t limited to painting, however. The Haircut, one of the museum’s most treasured works of sculpture, is described as “Mining the swirling currents between violence and personal hygiene,” which barely does the piece justice. Other sculptures in the collection include Madonna with Smile, a wooden Virgin Mary whose facial features are lovingly rendered in felt tip pen; 2-Terrapin pyramid, an intriguing pair of “death-defying” turtles posed in perfect, balletic balance; and Johnny McGrory, a piece somewhat resembling a blood-soaked Stay-Puft marshmallow man in a fascinatingly incongruous graduation cap.
Interestingly, many of these pieces have been donated by the artists themselves, demonstrating pretty conclusively that exposure, even in a museum dedicated specifically to the worst art the world has ever produced, is better than none at all. And if nothing else, having a piece included in MOBA’s collection is anything but boring.
Support the Museum of Bad Art by purchasing books, T-shirts, and other merchandise through museumofbadart.org, or by donating cash – or art! Instructions for donations can be found on the Web site, and MOBA can also be reached by phone at (781) 444-6757.