Museum of Bad Art
Today the Walker was visited by Michael Frank, the Curator-in-Chief of Boston’s Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). Since the early 90’s, the MOBA features “art too bad to be ignored™,” displayed in galleries in the basements of two community theatres in the Boston area, the “largest network of theatre-basement exhibition venues on Earth.” The museum exhibits artworks with a playful ironic subtext. The hilarious website is a fascinating peek into the world of images found in thrift stores, garbage piles, yard sales, and even donations from artists themselves. Michael is in town to view and promote Masterworks: The MOBA plays , 6 commissioned plays based on 6 paintings from his new book The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks. Being a Boston native myself, I was immediately excited to meet Michael and ask him some questions about MOBA.
What is your professional background?
I’m a professional musician and guitar player—Mike the Hatman. I do kids’ shows.
How did you become involved with MOBA?
In the early 90’s, the founders of the Museum of Bad Art decided to move on. There were a group of us who wanted to see it continue. I knew the founders because of a donation I made to the museum. I became Curator-in-Chief because I donated more art than anyone else. Louise Reilly Sacco, the sister of one of the founders, became Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director.
What is the mission of MOBA?
We look for art created in earnestness, but where something went wrong in the execution or concept.
Which piece exemplifies the mission of MOBA?
That’s so hard to do, choose one piece. That’s like asking, “Which kid do you like the best?” I think Gilded Nude does a good job of showing what we’re about. You have to read the commentary, though—“The viewer is struck immediately by the youthful female subject’s oversized arm.”
What is your definition of “bad art?”
It’s difficult to be ironic about abstract art. Most art I would include in MOBA is representational, mostly with poor technique. Just because it has poor technique, though, doesn’t mean it automatically fits in at the MOBA. Some of the work has very good technique. It has to be a compelling image, one that I find interesting. Basically, if I say it’s museum-worthy, it is.
How do the artists at MOBA compare with “outsider” artists?
The works are very similar to Outsider Art or Art Brut. Some of the artists are also in many outsider art collections.
Some artists donate their works. How do the artists feel about being exhibited at MOBA?
A lot of artists do donate works. Some artists will use MOBA on their resumes. I follow the mission of MOBA when choosing the works. If the artist is too self-conscious or silly, trying to make bad art, I don’t accept it. Some artists are surprised when they find that their works are in MOBA. Only one person objected, the rest are happy about it for the most part.
MOBA exhibits mostly paintings and some sculpture. Have you considered including other media like film or performance art?
No. I thought about photography. Like abstract art, I find it hard to be ironic about photos. I do have a collection of music that I play at the galleries. One musician is Mary Schneider, Australia’s Queen of Yodeling. She yodels the classics. She yodels the melody to the William Tell Overture with an accompanying orchestra. She has fantastic technique.
What are people’s reactions to MOBA?
Almost everyone likes it. Some people don’t get it. What are people’s reactions to the Walker?
Mostly positive, some mixed opinions. The Walker shows so many different kinds of art, not many people like everything at the Walker. A lot of people know who we are and that we push the boundaries of the definition of art, so they expect that. Some people expect to see Van Gogh paintings and are mad when they find out we don’t show any.
I saw some works in your museum that I might consider for MOBA but like I said, it’s hard for me to be ironic about abstract art. I wondered, “Why is a canvas with a slit cut into it considered art?”
The Bryant Lake Bowl is currently showing Masterworks: The MOBA plays, performed by the Minnesota-based Commedia Bauregard theatre company. Interestingly, one of the plays is based on the painting Bone-Juggling Dog in Hula Skirt, by Minneapolis artist Mari Newman.
The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks and other MOBA merchandise can be purchased from the MOBA website.
Like all reputable museums, MOBA happily accepts donations. Submissions should be made via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.