Do you know why you think a piece of art is good? We all have our reasons for liking something. Maybe for you it’s the right mix of colours or possible it’s the right combination of shapes, or if you see art as more of a statement piece, it’s the price tag that swings it for you. How we decide what is good is down to our personal taste. But what about the other side of the coin? What about the bad art?
Where good art is hard to distinguish due to personal preference, it always seems bad art is a lot easier to spot. Remember a few years ago when an elderly woman in Italy ruined a priceless fresco by performing her own amateur refurbishment. That was described around the world as “bad art”. It seems that deep down we all know what can bad art is when we see it, no matter our opinion on the good stuff.
But even though something is bad, that doesn’t mean it still shouldn’t be shown to the masses. Enter The Museum of Bad Art. Their slogan is “Too bad to be ignored”, and they’re the world leaders in the art of being bad…at art.
The beginning of the museum differs slightly from your average gallery, but I guess that is to be expected for one that houses the type of art that the MOBA does. In 1993 art and antiques dealer Scott Wilson was taking a walk around his Boston neighbourhood, when he spotted a painting nestled between two trash cans. Normally you wouldn’t check something that’s been stuck between the bins, but Scott could probably sense that it was a potential masterpiece hidden amidst the waste. It turns out, he was sort of right. The painting was a portrait of an elderly woman in a yellow meadow. In her hand she clasped a bouquet of freshly picked flowers. She was also sat in her favourite red chair. In the middle of the meadow. It appears that the subject agreed to pose for this painting, but on one condition: she could bring her special seat along with her.
Scott was instantly smitten with his new find, and brought it home with him. So impressed with it, he decided to show his friend, software engineer Jerry Reilly who was equally enamoured with it and accepted it as a gift. He quickly framed it, named it (Lucy in the Sky with Flowers) and hung it in his freshly white-walled basement. Scott soon picked up a few more pieces from street corners, dumpster dives and flea markets that were presented to Jerry, and quickly added to slowly increasing haul. With the collection starting to take shape they decided to give it a name and in 1994 the Museum of Bad Art was born.
Now the collection had a name and a base, it slowly started to build a word of mouth following. Within no time at all the early exhibitions were attracting hundreds of visitors a time. Impressive for a small gallery, even more so for one located in a man’s cellar. The initial interest probably reached its tipping point when a tour bus packed with pensioners stopped to have a look around. After that they decided it was time to search for new premises and in 1995 the team relocated their collection to another basement, albeit one more used to an audience, as they took up residence in the Dedham Community Theatre. Now in 2016, the MOBA has over 600 pieces in their collection and have expanded to two other locations, the lobby of the Brookline Gallery and in the New England Wildlife Center Gallery.
Although where the collection has lived has changed over the years, their basis for artwork acceptance has remained a constant. Louise Sacco, the Permanent Acting Interim Executive described the parameters for selection:
“Most importantly, it must be art. That is, the work is original, sincere, and reflects the artist’s effort to communicate with the audience. Beyond that, we look for works that are engaging and demand a second look. But something has gone wrong. Perhaps the artist barely knows which end of the paint brush to hold; perhaps a skilled artist has a bad day or an unworkable idea; perhaps enthusiasm overtakes skill”.
If it fits all the criteria listed above and is accepted it receives a description by Curator in Chief, Michael Frank, described by Louise as the “world authority on bad art”. The descriptions have garnered as much interest online as the pieces they accompany. The best example why is the one given to the gallery’s debut piece:
The motion, the chair, the sway of her breast, the subtle hues of the sky, the expression on her face — every detail combines to create this transcendent and compelling portrait, every detail cries out “masterpiece”.
Masterpiece is a word often used in galleries and in its own way the MOBA is full of them. With over 7 billion people in the world, there’ll be more people who want to be artists, than are actually good at art. The MOBA is providing a service to those artists who don’t quite have the skill set yet, allowing them to have their work seen in a gallery. The MOBA may be famous for its bad art, but in promoting life’s dreamers, it’s also doing some good at the same time.
Words by Daniel Eggleston