Museum of bad art showcases worst works in the world

The 'Mana Lisa,' one of the works in the 'Museum of Bad Art.' Musuem of Bad Art
The 'Mana Lisa,' one of the works in the 'Museum of Bad Art.'

The world is filled with bad art, but not all bad art is bad enough to make it into the Museum of Bad Art.

That's right, the very real Museum of Bad Art, or MOBA, is looking for art so bad it's good. The Massachusetts museum proudly showcases the work in three galleries, one in the basement of a community theater in Somerville and two in nearby Brookline.

Founded in 1994, the volunteer-run museum has since received attention from around the world, and critics from the New York Times to Harvard scholars have expounded on its influence. MOBA has even released two books, "Museum of Bad Art: Art Too Bad to Be Ignored" and "Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks."

LUCY IN THE FIELD WITH FLOWERS
Unknown
30"x24", oil on canvas
Rescued from trash in Boston, MA
by Scott Wilson (MOBA Esteemed Curator Emeritus), 1993
... Musuem of Bad Art
'Lucy in the field with flowers' is the work of art that started it all.

The origins of the museum lie in the painting "Lucy In the Field With Flowers," which antiques dealer Scott Wilson found in a pile of trash in 1994. He showed it to his friend John Riley, who became so enamored of the painting he framed it. Wilson continued to bring Riley pieces of bad art he found at flea markets and on sidewalks, and Riley began to showcase them in his newly white-walled basement.

The pair dubbed the collection the Museum of Bad Art, and when the collection outgrew the basement space, the pair took over the lower level of a community theater in nearby Dedham, Mass.

Mark Frank, an early museum volunteer, was appointed Curator-in-Chief almost 10 years ago.

“I can’t pass a yard sale or thrift store or interesting pile of trash without checking it out,” he told TODAY.com, admitting that's part of what first attracted him to MOBA. “As soon as I learned about the museum I donated some pieces. I always had an eye out for pieces to donate.”

The staff at MOBA feel that bad art takes just as much time and effort to produce as more respected works, and that it deserves to be showcased in the same way as "good art." That’s why they chose the guiding motto, “Art too bad to be ignored.”

He Was a Friend of Mine, by Jack Owen. Musuem of Bad Art
Frank found this painting by the mysterious 'Jack Owen' in a local thrift shop. Soon after he added it to the collection, a man contacted MOBA, revealing that his father, a Mr. Owen, had befriended a homeless man named Jack, and that he gave him art supplies. In order to thank Mr. Owen, Jack had signed the pictures 'Jack Owen.' 'When the old man passed away his son went to clean out the house and found this whole trove of Jack Owen paintings in the attic which he donated to the thrift store,' Frank said.

And Frank, who says the museum receives up to 20 submissions a month, insist the work must be original and sincere to make it into the collection.

“It has to be a piece of art that was an earnest attempt to make an artistic statement,” he explains, noting that bad art made on purpose won’t make the cut. “People submit things all the time that are cynical in an attempt to get publicity.”

Once the art is deemed bad enough for the museum, Frank “interpretates” each piece, giving it a title and attempting to analyze the inspirations behind the treasured piece of trash.

“I like to say I ‘interpretated’ them," he said. "People correct me and say that they don’t think that’s a word, and I explain that certain images are so vexing that merely interpreting them would be insufficient—they beg to be ‘interpretated.’”

In his descriptions, Frank, a freelance musician by day with no formal art history training, isn’t afraid to compare the obvious mistakes in the works to similar techniques found in the works of modern masters.

“We celebrate the fact that people attempt to make art for lots of different reasons,” he said. “When people go to traditional museums they might not understand why different pieces are important. Here people can just appreciate stuff for what it is.”

Though they don’t track attendance, Sacco estimates the museum attracts 8,000 people a year with a Facebook following of over 20,000 likes.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Mediocre masterpieces

    Where can you find the worst art in the world? On the walls at the Museum of Bad Art, a Massachusetts gallery devoted to displaying work that's not pleasing to the eye.

  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Mana Lisa' -

    Where can you find the worst art in the world? Chances are, it's on the walls at the Museum of Bad Art, a Massachusetts gallery devoted to displaying work that's not pleasing to the eye.

    A cross-gender interpretation of the Da Vinci classic, the 'Mana Lisa' was donated to the musem by the artist in 2002. The subject's nose strikes nimbly, offsetting the dialogue between the foreground and profoundly varnished background.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Un poisson mort' -

    With this painting by an anonymous artist, the viewer is left to ponder the cause, as well as the artist's decision to memorialize this fish's demise.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Hot, hot, hot' -

    In this work, donated anonymously, a comely woman in a fringed bikini stands unfazed by leeches and engulfing flames: metaphorical reminders of the enigmatic hazards of feminine beauty.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Couldabeen Marilyn Today' -

    This 2003 acrilyc painting, done by Roger Hanson, imagines what Marilyn Monroe might have looked like today - if she bore no resemblance to her bombshell self. A little too old to have hair so blond and lips so red. The darkness rises and threatens to overwhelm. Are those fading dreams around her?

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Mama and babe' -

    The flesh tones in this work bring to mind the top shelf liquors of a border bistro. Artist Sarah Irani flirts with caricature and captures the features of Mama's face, which remind us of a former first lady. The upright marionettish pose of the babe hints that the early bond between mother and child is as formal as it is familiar.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Germ of an idea' -

    This anonymous and eerie painting was found by the Museum of Bad Art curator Mark Frank at a Boston thrift store in 2008.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Bat hair day' -

    This painting, purchased in 2000, was donated by its owners in 2012 - it might have proved too spooky for their home. Happy Halloween!

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'A new day' -

    The volcanoes belch their final eructation as the morning sun lights up the sky, portending better days ahead.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Look Ma, no hands!' -

    While the image (originally purchased at a church fair), has a Norman Rockwellian charm, it is probably best appreciated as an illustration of the creative devices to which artists sometimes resort to avoid the difficult challenge of painting human hands.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Birdbrain' -

    Unlike the sacrificial canaries in a coal mine, the seagulls in this metaphorical painting are free to leave when they sense conditions are deteriorating.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Malinovka' -

    The young woman's head is slightly atilt under the weight of impossibly orange hair in this idyllic tableau. A tiny songbird has alighted from the dwarf tree bearing two green apples onto a one dimensional chair, contemplating the coiffure as a potential new home.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'El beso de los siames' -

    Translated as "The kiss of Siamese twins," this painting was purchased in a market in Havana, Cuba in 2011.

    A woman's unusually large well-manicured hand emerges from the foreground flowers in a tender caress in this touching portrayal of love between beautifully coiffed conjoined twins. Given the inordinate amount of time they spend together, it is auspicious they get along so well; always seeing eye to eye.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Vanishing woman' -

    Artist Hannah Hamilton combined disparate techniques such as the "vanishing point" (a perspective device developed in the fifteenth century Renaissance) and "Pollockian drips" (a mid-twentieth century abstract paint application method) to portray a womanly apparition in a tulip field. This was purchased by Mark Frank at a Boston thrift store in 2011.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Winged pixie' -

    Otto depicts a diminutive dancing pixie, taut with energy, desperately attempting to flee an over active mind. The facial expression recalls a deer caught in the headlights, and the limbs are stretched to twig-like hands, ready to snap. The artist captures the tension of frantic activity coupled with indecision in this portrait of an incredible shrinking woman.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Badminton Anyone?' -

    The genteel social elite in 18th and 19th Century Europe enjoyed playing badminton at lawn parties. The handsome woman depicted in this portrait (based on Jean Baptiste Simeon's 1737 painting "Girl with Shuttlecock") holds a birdie featuring colorful feathers and, inexplicably, a modern racquet more suited for The Championships of the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Tears of a clown' -

    The artist's deft technique makes it abundantly clear that his funny hat and painted smile can not disguise the sadness of this young boy whose grotesquely dysmorphic ears most likely destine him to an itinerant life in traveling tent shows.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Flying forks' -

    Seemingly oblivious to whatever is going on above and behind her, the woman in this painting seems concerned about the mental state of her partner, who maintains a death grip on a dismembered steering wheel. While the significance of the cross in the background is unclear, this image seems to be visual representation of Yogi Berra’s advice, “When you’re driving an imaginary car and you see a flying fork, take it.”

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Man in the mirror?' -

    His eyes closed and long hair blowing in a wind-machine generated windstorm, the late Michael Jackson exudes emotion in this lovingly executed portrait. It is difficult to ascertain which, or whose, hand is holding the microphone in this heartfelt performance.

    Musuem of Bad Art
  • Mediocre masterpieces

    of

    'Ronan the pug' -

    Ronan could hardly see straight after lapping up all the spilled eggnog at a holiday party, but brought tears to everyone's eyes with his clear tenor rendition of "Danny Boy."

    The artist’s affection for her dog far outstrips her artistic skill. Paint is slapped on the canvas with random brushstrokes, creating matted, impossible fur. Done in such a hurry that the canine anatomy was not even considered, the artist still captures Ronan’s playful sweetness.

    Musuem of Bad Art

Most recently, Frank has started a MOBA YouTube page, where he elaborately “interpretates” the forgotten work just like a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art might do, helping to bring the work of MOBA to bad art enthusiasts around the world. Above all, he insist they are not making fun of the art.

“We don’t demean anybody; we’re not mean spirited about what we do," he says. "We have fun at the expense of the intellectual art community.”

Best of all?

“People in the art world know about us,” Frank says. “And they get it.”

0:00
 
0:00
Your video begins in
0:00
TOP