Boston Bylanes

Exploring Boston's hidden sights and sounds

Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Where Bad Art Is Good

Posted by Yoshita Singh on July 8, 2010

Boston’s Museum of Bad Art is a one-of-its-kind museum that is dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of bad art. Located in the basement of the Dedham Community Theatre, the MOBA showcases 25 paintings out of its collection of about 500. It has another gallery in the basement of the Somerville Theatre. How bad is the art? Take a look.


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A Sanctuary For Trashy Art

Posted by Yoshita Singh on July 6, 2010

Remember ‘Gladys?’ The obnoxious painting by Phoebe Buffay in the TV series Friends. The one which has a half-a-body-girl-dummy coming out of a frame that neither Monica nor Rachel wants to keep.

Well if Phoebe were in Boston, chances are Gladys would have adorned the walls of a museum. The Museum of Bad Art.

Yes, you heard it right. There is a museum here devoted to well, bad art. Ok, so not everyone is a Pablo Picasso. That doesn’t mean their masterpieces (no pun intended) should stay hidden from the world. And so the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), founded in 1993, does the noble deed of showcasing the best of bad art to the world.

Now, if you are imagining the MOBA to be a palatial building, spread over acres of lush green land, you are way off the mark. The Museum of Bad Art is located in the basement of the Dedham Community Theatre next to a men’s restroom. About 25 paintings are casually hung on the room’s pale yellow walls. Two are on a screen that separates the men’s room from the rest of the “museum.”

“The place looks more like a storage room for art no one wants to keep than a museum. The paintings are so bad, they are hilarious,” said Brent, who had come to the theatre to watch a movie. He came to the basement to use the restroom, not to see the museum., that writes on “offbeat attractions,” says the air in the gallery carries a distinct odour of “urinal disinfectant pucks.”

The paintings are bad yet funny. They make you wonder, “What was this person thinking?” For instance, there is ‘Mana Lisa,’ inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s great work the ‘Mona Lisa.’ Needless to say, it’s nowhere close to the original masterpiece. The long-faced Mana Lisa looks more like the work of a third or fourth grader trying his hands at oil painting. One can’t help but chuckle at Mana Lisa’s long thin nose, disproportionate eyes and silly smile. And what the green, brown and pink background in the picture really signifies is anyone’s guess.

Next to the Mana Lisa is the ‘Play boy bunnies.’ They literally are two naked, wide-eyed female bunnies with teeth that look like piano keys. All that the bunnies are wearing is a pink bow, which is strategically placed on their bodies. A note next to the painting says, “Also of interest is the artist’s use of the pink breast cancer awareness ribbon in a place where few breasts are normally found. Is she making a comment on the interchangeability of body parts in a plastic surgery obsessed culture?”

A portrait of a smiling man in a red suit and tie also catches one’s attention. The note next to it reads, “It appears to be a portrait of civic leader Nelson Muntz. But the MOBA Department of Questionable Research believes it could actually be a rare portrait of George H W Bush.” Another funny painting is that of a faceless girl. Her face is smeared with black paint. Her lips, eyes, eyebrows and nose are not on her face but surround her head. 

If you are adept at analyzing and finding deeper meaning in abstract art, try deciphering ‘The Southern Quadrant Chevron 12.’ A bright red boomerang-like object is painted next to the numeric 12 at the bottom-right corner of a plain blue canvas. Good luck figuring that out.


The gallery is not manned by any museum staff. But that does not mean you can slip one of the great works under your shirt or in a bag and walk away. A surveillance camera is mounted on the wall next to the exit. Under it are the words, “These premises are protected by a fake security camera.”  

The MOBA collection is assembled from pieces recovered from trash, yard sale, thrift stores and gifts from people. Louise Reilly Sacco, MOBA’s Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director, says they are constantly adding to the collection, which currently has about 500 art pieces. Due to lack of space, only 20-25 pieces are displayed at the Dedham theatre and at the museum’s other location Somerville theatre. In both places, the art is displayed in a room in the basement. “The theatre owners offered the space to us for free. So we took it, even if it means the gallery is near a restroom,” she laughs. Admission to the museum at Dedham is free but at the Somerville centre, you would have to purchase a movie or concert ticket to see the MOBA gallery. The galleries are open whenever movies are showing at the theatres.

Each art is accompanied by a sarcastic remark about the work and what the artist must have been thinking while painting it. Not every bad piece of art can make it to the MOBA walls though. Sacco says the painting has to be a sincere piece of work. “If someone paints a bad picture deliberately, we don’t accept it. There has to be sincerity in the art.” MOBA does not accept work of young children, paintings on black velvet or any work that is kitsch. Sacco says the work should be a serious attempt to make an artistic statement but one that has gone wrong in its execution.

MOBA’s tagline is ‘Art too bad to be ignored.’ So next time, think twice before you poke fun at a friend’s work of art. It could be the next big thing on the Museum of Bad Art’s wall of fame.

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