Museum spotlight: Museum of Bad Art (MOBA)

A Museum showcasing art so bad, it's good

It can sometimes seem that every city in the world has at least one museum dedicated to great art. But it's only Somerville, Massachusetts that can boast a museum that celebrates bad art.

Baby Dolls at MOBA

Baby Dolls

For more than 20 years, the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) has been showcasing art that's so spectacularly bad, it's good - or at least enormously entertaining to look at. 

The idea of the museum was born around 20 years ago, when Boston antique dealer, Scott Wilson plucked a painting, Lucy in the Field with Flowers, from a pile of garbage. He had only wanted the picture frame.

Museum of Bad Art - Lucy in the Field with Flowers

Lucy in the Field with Flowers

Today, MOBA has around 500 pieces in its permanent collection. The museum acquires paintings from flea markets, yard sales and charity shops both locally in Boston and further afield through its worldwide network of MOBA friends. Artists regularly offer the MOBA curators their work. For many artists, this is win-win.  If the museum turns them down, they can tell themselves that they’re not so bad. If MOBA accepts their work, they have a piece in a museum.

A rigorous selection process

The selection process is rigorous as Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director, Louise Reilly Sacco explains:

'Many pieces that are offered to us are boring, stupid, or meaningless. We don’t want them. There is nothing to celebrate. We want to see emotion, effort, imagination, attempts at the difficult. If the work gets a conversation going about what was intended or what’s going on in the piece, we’re interested'.   

Charlie and Sheba at MOBA

Charlie and Sheba

The museum holds regular exhibitions in its main gallery in the basement of the Somerville Movie Theater, with some 25 pieces from the collectionAdmission is free with a movie ticket or by requesting a free pass from Most works held in the collection are presented online and each artwork in the collection is accompanied by the curators' interpretation together with questions and comments from visitors. This interpretation is tongue-in-cheek, often laugh out loud funny, but always respectful.

The importance of celebrating failure

So, is it all a joke? Not according to Louise Reilly Sacco, who describes the museum as a celebration of the artist's right to fail:

'Audiences have always been interested in, and attracted to certain artistic failures. We are talking about that acceptance and encouraging viewers to say “I love this” even when a work has, by traditional standards (and often by the artist’s standards), failed. In terms of artists, we are encouraging them to give it a go. Try something new, unlikely, or difficult. Even if it doesn’t succeed the way you hoped, it may still be applauded, shared, and celebrated.'

Sunday on the Pot with George at MOBA

Sunday on the Pot with George

MOBA is going from strength to strength attracting devotees of bad art and generating press coverage. Four years ago, the museum even made it onto The Times' list of the world's 50 greatest galleries. The MOBA team are currently planning a 2018 show in London and are working on updating their website and expanding their range of merchandise.

If you are unable to get to Somerville to visit the MOBA anytime soon, do browse the museum's collection online and follow the museum's news on FacebookAfter all, where else can you marvel at a jester gargoyle spewing Rubik's cubes and ponder such questions as 'What is Norman Mailer's head doing on an innocent grandma's body?' 

Address: MOBA,  Somerville Theater, 55 Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. (other locations in South Weymouth and Brookline, Mass.); free with the purchase of a movie ticket.
Phone (781) 444-6757

Our thanks to Louise Reilly Sacco and the MOBA team for their help with this article.

All images © Museum of Bad Art