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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Museum of Bad Art challenges the idea of what art can be

The Museum of Bad Art features art that would typically be considered “bad art” by art critics, putting a spotlight on pieces that challenge people’s understandings of what qualifies as good and bad art.

Customers at the Dorchester Brewing Company are treated to more than lunch and a drink. Covering the back walls of the taproom are dozens of paintings with clashing colors, odd and eclectic subjects, and labels befitting a museum of fine art. This is the gallery space of the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA).

Founded in 1993, MOBA celebrates work that would not be displayed in other public forums. It showcases pieces, often found in thrift stores and garage sales, which would be considered unimportant or of low quality by art critics. Its ambition is to explore what makes “bad art,” what makes “fine art” and who gets to decide.

Louise Sacco, director and co-founder of MOBA, said that the pieces selected for inclusion in the museum are artistic endeavors that have misfired in various ways. In some cases, the artist lacks proper technique or training. In others, the problem may be the idea motivating the piece. Sacco said that issues like these do not prevent appreciation of the artist’s effort.

“It can be that an artist who barely knows which end of the paintbrush to pick up, but the work is so full of heart and soul and meaning that you just want to talk about it, you want to see it, you want others to see it,” Sacco said.

Sacco said that MOBA does not accept intentional efforts to produce bad art, nor does it include kitsch. She said that although all of the works in the collection genuinely fail conceptually or technically to some degree, they succeed in generating interest and sparking conversation.

“It is art. Someone is trying to communicate something through their art. But in our case, something went wrong, and in a way that makes it interesting and worthy of talking about,” Sacco said.

Ralph Campbell, a visitor to the Dorchester gallery, said that some of the pieces in the collection were not “bad,” and he felt that the artists’ goals were often comprehensible despite their shortcomings.

“You can tell some of the people are really trying to make a religious or a lifestyle statement. Execution is questionable, but the intent is there,” Campbell said.

Sacco said that artists whose work is displayed in the gallery are typically gratified that their art can provoke discussion about artistic merit, even if they are disappointed about the inadequacies of their work.

“They know that the piece wasn’t up to their standards or went wrong.The idea that we’re finding an audience for it and we’re talking about it, makes them really happy,” Sacco said.

According to Sacco, MOBA probes not only what constitutes bad art, but also assumptions about who decides what art has value. Sacco said that perceptions of artistic significance have been deeply shaped by the price that buyers are willing to pay.

“If we’re questioning anything, it’s who gets to decide what’s important art–who gets to decide what’s important and what isn’t. As it turns out, at least in the last century, people with pocket books get to decide what’s important,” Sacco said.

Instead of accepting the judgments produced by the market, Sacco said that MOBA’s curators determine which failed art is museum-worthy. She said that she encourages visitors, including students, to challenge or disagree with the curators’ decisions to include pieces in the museum.

Brandon Essex, another visitor to the gallery, said that it is hard to classify art as “bad” because questions about the merit of art often turn on personal preference. He said that reflecting on the complex nature of art is what makes the museum unique.

“The whole idea of art is always subjective. Something that is bad for one person can be good to another person,” Essex said.

Sacco said she is excited to extend the museum’s mission beyond Boston. In addition to maintaining an active website and Facebook page, MOBA will be opening a branch in Quebec, Canada, this fall.

Sacco said she hopes that the museum will encourage aspiring artists, including high school students, to experiment and persevere. She said that artists should embrace failure and use it to spark their own growth as well as that of others.

“We celebrate the act of fail: get out there and try it, do it,” Sacco said. “It doesn’t have to win a prize in your class or in your school or anything else to be worth doing, and it’s very possible that to people who see it, even who recognize that something’s gone wrong, it’s going to raise thought, raise questions, and get conversation going.”

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