The Museum Of Bad Art Has Been Celebrating Failure Since 1993

From the garbage to gallery walls, Boston's Museum Of Bad Art is dedicated to preserving “art too bad to be ignored.”
January 13, 2018, 3:00am
All images courtesy the Museum Of Bad Art.

This article originally appeared on The Creators Project in 2015, but we think it's still pretty good.

The Museum Of Bad Art has “exacting standards,” according to Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director Louise Sacco. When considering new acquisitions, MOBA looks for artworks with that “special quality that sets them apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent.” Curator in Chief Michael Frank regularly sifts through offers from prospective donors across the globe, and he and others scour flea markets, thrift stores, and curbside trash to find striking pieces worthy of the MOBA spotlight. Word has spread so effectively that trash collection companies even call the museum with tips on spectacularly bad finds.

Unknown, Lucy in the Field with Flowers. Rescued from trash in Boston, MA, 1993.

The museum’s beginnings date back to 1993, when antique dealer Scott Wilson spotted an oil painting in the trash—the now iconic Lucy in the Field with Flowers. Wilson’s friends encouraged him to start a collection, and he began holding receptions in his home. Attendance grew and the collection found a permanent home in the basement of a community theater in Dedham, Massachusetts. When the building later found itself in the hands of a new owner who did not see MOBA as a good fit, the museum established its main gallery in the Somerville movie theater. It also operates branch galleries in Brookline and South Weymouth, near Boston.

Anonymous, The Better To See You, My Dear. Acquired in a barter.

Today, the collection counts over 600 works, with approximately 60 on view at any given time. All are original and made with sincere intentions—no works on velvet, paintings by numbers, or well-known kitschy motifs allowed. Presumably because of storage constraints, most pieces are two-dimensional. From undeniably awful renderings of the human form to perplexing landscapes and unfortunate experiments in pet portraiture, the collection dutifully embodies the museum’s slogan of “art too bad to be ignored.”

If you’re wondering whether this is all some kind of joke, the Museum’s online FAQ section anticipates your suspicions, and offers this for an answer: “This institution works long and hard at building the finest bad art establishment in the world. We take our mission very seriously. Frankly, we are shocked and indignant at your derisive innuendo."

Anonymous, The Waterfall. Purchased at a flea market in Buffalo, NY.

G.P., Natty Dread. Rescued from curbside trash in Somerville, MA, 2015.

Jack Owen, He Was a Friend of Mine. Purchased at a Boston thrift store, 2007.

K. Koch, Spewing Rubik’s Cubes. Purchased at a Boston thrift store, 2007

In addition to ongoing exhibitions at their three locations, the Pember Library & Museum in Granville, New York, is currently featuring MOBA works in their Dreadful Art show, and the Harvard Business School will host a small show in September. Explore the Museum Of Bad Art’s collection on Google Open Gallery, and stay up-to-date on recent acquisitions via their Facebook page.