The Museum of Bad Art – Yes, Really
I was vacationing in the Dominican Republic with my family when I was a teenager. We were shopping in some huts along the beach when I spotted an oil painting I just had to have. After very little bargaining, the painting was mine. My first work of art. Coming through customs on the way home, I unrolled the painting and anxiously awaited the officer’s assessment. Was he going to charge me extra for bringing this masterpiece into the country? No. He pointed to the artist’s signature – I.M. Takhe – and laughed until tears rolled down his face. I am comforted today knowing that my priceless painting would have been rejected by the Museum of Bad Art.
The museum has rigorous standards. They don’t accept any art that is deliberately bad, like dogs playing poker, anything painted on velvet, or, perhaps, my painting. Rather, pieces in the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) collection “range from the work of talented artists that have gone awry to works of exuberant, although crude, execution by artists barely in control of the brush. What they all have in common is a special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent.”
I’m one of those people whose heart breaks for the losers in a sporting event. When I first learned of the Museum of Bad Art, I thought the owners of this private museum were cruel. If an artist doesn’t set out to make bad art, how shaming must it be to have their artwork labeled as such? Besides, isn’t the quality of art in the eye of the beholder? Um, no.
Characteristics of Bad Art
Travel writer Cash Peters has identified six characteristics common to many of the museum’s artworks:
- Hands and feet are hidden with long sleeves or are extended off the canvas.
- Colours are wonky (skies aren’t blue, but people are) and images are unintentionally fanciful (plants don’t look at all like plants).
- Perspective is inconsistently applied.
- Noses are attempted so many times that paint builds up on the canvas.
- If in doubt, the artist glues feathers, glitter or hair to their work.
- Artists seem to feel that the piece may be saved by the inclusion of a monkey or a poodle.
Technical skill, composition and content. Those are the same three categories mentioned in a serious discussion of how to tell if art is good or bad.
Many of MOBA’s works of art are donated by the artists themselves. Others are found at yard sales, thrift stores, or, like the first work in the 600-piece collection, tucked between garbage cans. Occasionally a painting is purchased. If it’s an exceptional work, MOBA has been known to spend twenty dollars.
MOBA’s motto is “art too bad to be ignored.” They have a playful and hilarious approach to their work, but it’s offered with a great deal of respect for the artists. As Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director, Louise Sacco, says, “it’s a tribute to the sincerity of the artists who persevered with their art despite something going horribly wrong in the process.”
Here’s an absolutely wonderful example of bad art, discussed by curator Michael Frank.
For photographs of the art, along with brief and hilarious titles and descriptions, click here.
To see the art itself you will need to visit their small installations in Somerville, Brookline or South Weymouth, Massachusetts. They used to host traveling exhibitions but haven’t had any lately. It’s too bad. I would have loved to see “Awash in Bad Art” where 18 pieces of art were covered in shrink wrap and installed in a drive through car wash.
The photo of the sheep isn’t from the Museum of Bad Art. They don’t take three-dimensional pieces, probably because they don’t have the storage or display space. If they did, would it qualify? Let me know in the comments below.