Love Terrible Paintings? You’re Not Alone

The Museum of Bad Art shines a light on untraditional artistic creations that are “too bad to be ignored.”

By Alanna Weissman

“Liberty and Justice” is just one of many strange, political paintings on-view at the Museum of Bad Art. ( MOBA )

“Liberty and Justice” is just one of many strange, political paintings on-view at the Museum of Bad Art. (MOBA)

That terrible painting you saw on the curb the other day might have looked like trash to you, but to one Boston-area museum, it’s a piece of fine art.

You won’t find any Mona Lisas at the Museum of Bad Art, where all that is weird, wacky, and awful gets a nail in the wall. Instead, you’ll find paintings of ferrets in brothels, women riding lobsters, and anatomically incorrect nudes, all divided up into cleverly-titled categories such as “Poor Traits,” “Look Ma, No Hands!” and “Oozing My Religion.”

“We’re not collecting kitsch or schlock, you know, dogs playing poker, things that are produced commercially like that,” Curator-in-Chief Michael Frank told OK Whatever. “We collect pieces that were made in what I believe was an honest attempt to make an artistic statement, to create real art, and clearly something has gone wrong, either in the execution or the original concept.”

Frank — who is also a professional musician and balloon artist — is part of a group of art-loving volunteers that help run the museum, which was founded in the early 1990s and located in the basement of an independent movie theater in Somerville, Massachusetts, for the last decade.

The Museum of Bad Art’s interior when it was located in the basement of a Massachusetts movie theater. ( MOBA )

The Museum of Bad Art’s interior when it was located in the basement of a Massachusetts movie theater. (MOBA)

It has been closed since October, however, as the movie theater undergoes renovations. Frank said “it is doubtful” the museum will reopen in that location, and for now, the collection is available to viewers solely online. There are more than 300 awful artworks on its website, with the bulk of them coming from thrift stores, yard sales, and even the trash.

Aside from its artworks, the museum has become a sort of conceptual art piece in and of itself, a send-up of what Frank called “the self-important world of art criticism.”

“I think what we do ends up being interesting as far as the larger questions of, ‘What is art? What is important in art?’ ” Frank explained. “We give light to works that would otherwise not be shared with the public.”

“Palmeras III” will forever change the way you see palm trees. ( MOBA)

“Palmeras III” will forever change the way you see palm trees. (MOBA)

And since so much professional art can seem baffling to the average viewer — white-on-white paintings, minimalism, cubism — the Museum of Bad Art provides an accessible entry point to viewers. It also underscores the subjectiveness of art, and how a piece’s worth fluctuates depending on who’s looking at it.

“There are some images in our collection that, if seen...on the wall of a contemporary art museum, many people would not know the difference.”

Despite having the phrase “bad art” in its name, the museum stresses that they’re not making fun of the artists.

“One thing that we’re not interested in doing is making anyone feel bad,” Frank said. “I don’t think of ‘bad art’ as opposed to ‘good art.’ I think of ‘bad art’ as opposed to ‘important art.’”

Frank is so fond of the pieces in his collection that he can’t even play favorites. Doing so, he said, is “like asking me to pick my favorite child.”

There are tons of so-bad-they’re-good artworks hanging on the digital walls of the Museum of Bad Art’s website, most with amusing descriptions written by Frank himself.

Here are some of our favorites and you can take a free tour of the rest of the museum’s catalog online.

 

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