The Beauty Of Bad Art

The Boston area is home to many beautiful art galleries, but so what? Many places can claim that, but here's something truly special about the region. It's also home to the Museum of Bad Art. Located just outside Boston at the Dedham Community Theater, MOBA provides more fun than any art museum has a right providing. Forget the Freedom Trail. This should be the first tourist destination on any trip to Boston.

You will find the museum in a small room in the basement of a movie theater. Just follow the sound of flushes. That's right. The gallery is located next to the men's room. A thin partition hides the toilets, but it doesn't stifle the flushes that you hear while studying such wonderfully bad paintings as:

  • "Lucy in the Fields with Flowers" (the seminal work of the museum made all the more notable for the bright yellow sky in the background)
  • "The Athlete" ("one of the largest crayon on canvas pieces that most people can ever hope to see")
  • "Self Portrait as a Bird" ("Acquired by Scott Wilson from trash")
  • "Sunday on the Pot with George" (a pointillistic portrait of a fat guy in his underwear sitting on a toilet made even more impressive due to the artist's "almost careless disregard for the subject's feet")

Of course, there are many other works on display in the gallery, and it's almost rude to single out just one for praise. But for me, "Sunday on the Pot with George" is the highlight. Basically, if Seurat had had neither talent nor taste but still liked doing that whole dot thing, this is what he might have come up with. It is truly breathtaking in its badness. In the words of curator Scott Wilson, "Clearly the artist responsible for 'George' had complete control, even mastery, of the brush. But why a balding fat man in his underwear?" Alas, it is a question to which we will never have an answer, but that doesn't matter. To behold such an affront to the senses makes the trip to MOBA more than worthwhile.

My friends Mark and Cynthia joined me on this trip, and at first it seemed a good idea. After all, Mark is an artist himself, and I was sure he could offer some cogent commentary. Unfortunately, though, he had consumed two margaritas at dinner and was in quite the charitable mood. "This one is actually pretty good," he would exclaim occasionally much to the shock and amazement of the other patrons, their heads swiveling around to see who could have possibly made such a statement.

When he saw "George," his comment was actually, "They did great job of creating depth. It's quite good, though really all it is is just some fat guy in a diaper sitting on a toilet." Rest assured that Cynthia and I made sure he wasn't driving later. He may have been sober by then, but he had also just failed what could only be described as the quintessential sobriety test. He had sort of liked "Sunday on the Pot with George."

We're thinking that perhaps MOBA could make some extra money on the side by letting the police use the paintings as field sobriety tests.

"Sir, could I have your license and your impression of this painting?"
"Oh, a masterpiece. The way the artist portrays a fat guy on a toilet really speaks to the zeitgeist of the times. Plus it really has depth."
"Okay, Sir, step out of the vehicle slowly and put your hands on your head."

To operate a museum like MOBA takes a special skill. After all, how does one determine exactly how bad bad art must be? Executive Director Jerry Reilly writes, in the book MOBA released in 1996, that a work must possess "a special quality that sets [it] apart in one way or another from the merely incompetent." Scott Wilson, is more direct. "I know it when I see it." He writes. And judging from the collection, he clearly does.

MOBA accepts submissions from everyone, so in case you're looking to get rid of that hideous painting of dandelions that your Uncle Roy left you in his will instead of money, you might just be in luck. Not that it's easy to make a successful submission, of course. MOBA rejects nine out of every ten submission that they receive. But even if your art isn't quite bad enough, there is one piece of good news. "The only promise MOBA makes to those who submit work is that we will never send it back."

If you ask me, that's a pretty good promise.

The Museum of Bad Art is located on the web at Some of the pieces mentioned here can also be seen on my web page.

Copyright 1999 by Joe Lavin
Joe Lavin's Humor Column is published every Tuesday at:

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Submitted By: Joe Lavin
Jun 30, 1999 12:50

This joke is rated: PG