To the artistically challenged, the wobbly armed, the color blind, the ill inspired: there’s a place for us.
The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) in Dedham, Massachusetts boast the motto “Art too bad to be ingnored.” Founded in 1994 by antiques dealer and apparent dumpster diver, Scott Wilson, the museum’s stated aim is “to celebrate the labor of artists whose work would be displayed and appreciated in no other forum.”
One winter night, Wilson found the museum’s first and now most treasured painting, Lucy in the Field with Flowers between to garbage cans on his street. He exhibited the piece in his home and encouraged friends to look for and bring over other bad art at dinner parties. The get-togethers became so popular, the collection needed a public venue, eventually housing up in a local theater basement. The museum’s permanent collection now holds nearly 500 pieces with 25 to 35 on view at a time.
Not unlike most reputable institutions, MOBA has a set of strict guidelines dictating what is worthy to grace the museum walls: 1. The work of art must be original and of serious intent. 2. The work must have significant flaws besides being boring, and 3. It cannot be deliberately kitsch. Michael Frank, the museum’s current curator/balloon artist/musician noted, “Nine out of ten pieces don’t get in because they’re not bad enough. What an artist considers to be bad doesn’t always meet our low standards.”
MOBA regularly rotates and updates its collection with appropriately titled shows including “Freaks of Nature”, “Hackneyed Portraits”, and “Nature Abhors a Vacuum and All Other Housework.” The museum has also hosted traveling shows including “Gallery in the Woods Gala” where works were hung from trees in Cape Cod with bad music playing to complete the ambiance. Another show called “Awash in Bad Art” was shrink wrapped and exhibited in a drive-thru car wash. The museum even held an auction i to aid the floundering Rose Art Museum in January of 2009, raising and donating a whopping $152.53.
Scandal increased the museum’s stature with the highly publicized theft of one of its pieces in 1996. A reward of $6.50 was offered for the missing Eileen and the police listed the crime as “larceny other.” Ten years alter, the museum was contacted by the thief demanding a $5,000 ransom. No ransom was ever paid and the painting was returned anyway. MOBA then installed fake video cameras at the front door and throughout the galleries with signs reading “Warning. This gallery is protected by fake video cameras.”
The greatest thing about The Museum of Bad Art, however, it its relationship with visitors. In 2008, MOBA began experimenting with the public naming and labeling works in the galleries. A contest decides the best submission and one is added every two months. There are open curatorial “interpretation” meetings for the exceptionally challenging works and exhibition openings offer guests unlimited Kool-aid and cheese puffs.
People laugh inside the walls of MOBA, often times hysterically. Galleries are filled with giggles and conversation, vastly challenging the behavior expected of museum and gallery patrons worldwide. MOBA mocks the museum’s authority of what is good art and humanizes the museum going experience that often scares people standing in front of a Picasso and not understanding it, finding it funny, then feeling embarrassed for it.
Co-founder Louise Reilly Sacco recently participated in a panel discussion with authorities on art and architecture about standars of beauty, published in Architecture Boston. She sat, a connoisseur of bad art — side by side with experienced, educated, professionals and scholars — a whole new level of art snob.