Home > Contemporary, Institutions, Multiple Artists, Painting, Season Two > When Bad Art is Good – The Museum of Bad Art

When Bad Art is Good – The Museum of Bad Art

I didn’t like discussing bad art before I went to a museum in it’s honor on a recently visit to Boston.  Openly talking negatively about poor execution of an artist’s attempt at expressing a personal point of view.  I’d rather save my passion for the praising of beautiful, thought provoking exhibitions over criticizing of a failed effort.  

I bought my movie ticket, I believe it was for Rango, walked down the stairs and took a left at the bathrooms. In the basement of the Somerville Theatre, near Tufts University, a small portion of the nearly 600 works in the Museum of Bad Art collection are on display.

Oddly formed figures, twisted and contorted, seem to reinforce why some artists rise to the top, able to grace the white walled halls of established institutions.  But that isn’t the purpose of the museum.  When I walked in, my discomfort did not immediately subside; I was afraid that these examples were to be just laughable jokes and the expense of some unknown artist.  Slowly my understanding of the concept of bad art began evolving; that despite so many factors stacked up against the work, it has some quality that the viewer finds appealing.

AnonymousThe portrait is common here.  Two paintings of Elvis, one on a velvet backdrop greet you as you enter the space.  There are no mass-produced images here; someone took the time to paint their own homage of the reproduced artistic icon.  One with a tear trailing down his cheek.


Self-Portraiture is an early form of expression for budding artists.  It is also displayed outwardly with the Eyeball.  Eyes seem to be a way artists remind themselves to look inward and the museum has several on display the day I visit.

As you make your way from one work to the next, the surroundings allow the visitor to look closely at something that they may have dismissed without a second glance just outside.  But this is art is in the purest form, truly created for the sake of creation.  Fantastical places, works that draw obvious inspiration from artwork or images difficult to interpret, all make unintentional artistic statements about self, fantasy and what is of value in our culture.

 Most of these artists featured are anonymous because the art is found in alleys and curbside leaning against trashcans, or picked up at garage sales or thrift stores for the frame, then finding their way to the museum collection.  I believe destined for their true calling on the museum’s oddly curved walls.
With tongue in cheek, the curatorial staff selects and expounds on technical abilities, execution and intent of the works.  Whether a lack of technique or extraordinarily bold color choice, the art somehow results in something compelling. Which I believe is sincerely respected.

The museum acts as a contemporary piece of art, than a museum hosing it.  Making us examine what we hold dear about our understanding of art.  Making the subjectivity of art the point of the revolving exhibition.  Since 1994 the museum has been featuring Art created for art’s sake.  And no matter how hideous the work, that is a good thing.

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  1. April 6, 2011 at 3:08 am

    Matthew –glad you’re back! Was checking through blogs I’ve come to love and just by chance gave yours a try, so glad you’re posting blogs again and hope you’ll continue to blog here. A question for you: what do you think is the diference between what you saw in this so called “bad” art exhibition and outsider art?

    • April 6, 2011 at 4:29 pm


      Its funny you’d mention Outsider Art, because I had been thinking about the connection. I would say there are alot of similarities. Both artists may not necessarily have formal training. And both are creating their art typically because they are drawn to share their perspective.

      The difference is that the outsider artist is typically prolific with their attempts, often not being recognized until after their death. Bad Art, according to the museum’s own material, is a serious attempt “to make an artistic statement – one that has gone horribly awry in either its concept or execution.” And may only have created on work.

      I’d be curious to hear what others have to say.

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