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Puzzling out the Museum of Bad Art


In June, I was finally able to visit the Museum of Bad Art while a good chunk of its collection was on tour in Quebec City. I'd been trying for years, but its string of temporary homes in the Boston area was always closed when I was in the area.

Screenshot 2022-07-25 144810A recent comic offers an interesting view on 'bad art'

I've been intrigued for years by the Museum of Bad Art, ever since it made its first internet appearance in the 1990s, shortly after it began to collect paintings from the trash, from thrift shops and donations for display in the founders' home.

20220703_10072320220703_100808March Madness (In Like a Lion); Playboy Bunnies

Magritte20220703_101134Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte's 1937 The Therapist (left) apparently inspired MoBA's The Therapist's Wife

MoBA describes its collection as "Art Too Bad to Be Ignored." As it grew and become known, it exhibited in theatre basements and other halls, but at points was only able to be virtual—but never ignored. It also did traveling shows: One was "an exhibition titled 'Awash in Bad Art,' 18 pieces of art were covered in shrink wrap for "the world's first drive-thru museum and car wash."


For a start, it seemed like fun. And second, we've all seen pictures that we would immediately nominate for inclusion. And, the premise seemed brilliant: "While every city in the world has at least one museum dedicated to the best of art, MOBA is the only museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting the worst."


20220703_100847Key Man, above, and Keys to the City are both plastered with actual housekeys

But now, confronted with the collection, I found myself doubting the premise. Some of the paintings clearly exhibited lack of skill; some were skillfully executed but featured strange subjects and composition. Others, actually seemed to show neither. What, I wondered, made it 'bad art?'20220703_10092520220703_10102920220703_101153At the Clothing Optional Beach; Flying Forks; Sad Monkeys with Woman

And perhaps in some way that is part of the museum's premise. It does have limits and standards:  According to Marie Jackson, quoted in Wikipedia, "Nine out of ten pieces don't get in because they're not bad enough. What an artist considers to be bad doesn't always meet our low standards."

20220703_10062420220703_10135120220703_10142820220703_101500Alien Adam and Eve; and a punnish pair (You're a Mule, Dear and The Cupboard was Bare). Bottom right: the quite obvious Big White Dog


The museum once posted that "the primary attribute of an objet d'art to be acquired by MOBA is that it must have been seriously attempted by someone making an artistic statement. A lack of artistic skill is not essential for a work to be included; a prospective painting or sculpture for the collection ideally should "[result] in a compelling image."


Well, many of the images, as you can see here, are compelling indeed. Some even seem to make serious statements that need to be considered. And, some, I have to admit seem bad or even repulsive to me. But... to me. Does my reaction make them 'bad art?' Is there really such a thing? I don't know; I doubt I ever truly will.


Some subjects seem random, but there's a lot to be asked in these two images: a dark and dangerous re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, and a Biblical scene unscene elsewhere: Joseph, and not Mary, holding the infant Jesus. Below, a painting called Death Is Beautiful.


To continue with a serious thought: True the two above do not show mastery of technique, but they make earnest statements. "Dissent from the Pedestal" makes punnish sense of apparent betrayals of the Statue of Liberty's promise, while "A Mariachi in Tien An Men Square" may intend to point out the universal nature of some struggles we think of as limited in time or place.


"Fish and Fox" shows a chaotic version of a parable about the nature of humans and other creatures. Or maybe not!


Labeling at the exhibit pointed out the subtle problem here: The image in the mirror doesn't correctly reflect the model in the foreground. But does that make it 'bad art?'


Saved for last: My favorite of the show: "Board to Death." The caption describes a stalemate: "Unable to complete their game of chess because they cannot move their arms from within their robes, Death and his adversary slouch dejectedly near a mountain precipice.


Again... Bad art? Maybe not!


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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