Patrons ponder
Patrons ponder "Hot Hot Hot" and other MOBA marvels.

Museum of Bad Art

Field review by the editors.

Boston, Massachusetts

Art is complicated, mysterious. It often seems as if an expert is required to understand it, and how can we have an opinion about something we don't understand?

Possibly the world's ugliest portrait of our 35th President.
Possibly the world's ugliest portrait of our 35th President.

That's why the Museum of Bad Art is satisfying. It has made the value judgment: this art is bad. That leaves the rest of us free to enjoy it because it's bad.

"Some people say there's no such thing as bad art," said Louise Sacco, MOBA's executive director. "Those people make me nuts."

MOBA, like a struggling artist, has squatted in a number of homes over the years since its first exhibition in 1994; we fondly recall when it was housed in a basement next to a public bathroom. In 2022 MOBA moved into the Dorchester Brewery, a busy location with an ever-present staff, long open hours, and a lot of walls on which to hang bad art. Louise said that the brewery was ideal match for MOBA and its rogue collection. Despite the proximity of fermented beverages, all ages are welcome to visit, and it's free.

Dozens of MOBA artworks grace the brewery's various public rooms and hallways, each with a helpful descriptive plaque. These mostly anonymous masterpieces, previously unseen in a Boston filled with art museums and artistic pretense, have been found in local yard sales, thrift stores, or thrown out with the trash -- although Louise said that every town in America has plenty of examples. (We've seen an outdoor mural or two that might qualify).


"Spewing Rubik's Cubes" - a MOBA thrift store discovery.

When confronted with paintings such as a court jester vomiting toys from the 1980s ("Spewing Rubik's Cubes") or a woman in a fringed bikini engulfed in flames ("Hot Hot Hot"), you realize that MOBA's most memorable works are often its most enigmatic. What indecipherable vision, for example, drove someone to paint Jackie Kennedy flirting with George Washington, or a tree with human eyeballs instead of leaves?

One of Louise's favorite paintings on display at Dorchester is "The Damned Guy," inspired by one of the hell-bound humans in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. "He's wearing a green speedo with a giant eyeball spewing something at him," said Louise. "It's just fantastic." The painting was donated to MOBA by a local doctor, who'd received it as a gift from a grateful patient. Surprisingly, several artworks -- with titles such as "New Year's Bagel" and "Elvis Descending a Staircase" -- were given to the museum by the artists themselves, thinking (correctly) that MOBA would share their work with the public when no one else would.

Indian brothers blocked by mysterious high-five barrier.
Indian brothers blocked by mysterious high-five barrier.

"Sometimes," said Louise, "an artist gets to a point and says, 'Whoa. I didn't think it would look like this.'"

A question sometimes asked of Louise is: Who is MOBA to decide what art is bad? "We're the Museum of Bad Art, that's who," she answers. The museum has high standards for its low art: no paint-by-numbers, no mass-produced art, no art created by theme park caricaturists or children, no Bob Ross art. Originality is important, said Louise, and bad art that's meant to be bad is rejected. "If someone sets out to make a piece of junk, that's not interesting at all." Poor technique alone won't ensure an artwork's acceptance by MOBA, although a lack of skill, a skewed perspective, or a weird use of color does help.


"New Year's Bagel" -- psychedelic vision of inebriated bread.

Part of the appeal of having MOBA in a brewery, said Louise, is that it's a place where people go to relax and have fun, and MOBA wants people to relax and have fun with bad art.

Just because art is bad, said Louise, doesn't mean it isn't likable. "We wouldn't have it in our collection," she said, "and we wouldn't have been showing it as long as we have, if we didn't genuinely like it."

Also see: Museum of Toilet Seat Art

Museum of Bad Art

Dorchester Brewing Company

Address:
1250 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA
Directions:
Inside the Dorchester Brewing Company. I-93 exit 14, then drive east on Columbia Rd for a quarter-mile. Continue straight onto Massachusetts Ave.(Columbia Rd will turn left, but don't follow it). Once on Massachusetts Ave. you'll quickly see the Brewing Company metal tank on the right; parking is just beyond it.
Hours:
Su-M 11:30-9, Tu-Th 11:30-10, F-Sa 11:30-11 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
781-444-6757
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

12-Foot-Tall Pear12-Foot-Tall Pear, Dorchester, MA - < 1 mi.
Giant Padlock and ChainGiant Padlock and Chain, Boston, MA - < 1 mi.
Big Teddy Bear StatueBig Teddy Bear Statue, Boston, MA - 2 mi.
In the region:
Alexander the Great Park, Roslindale, MA - 4 mi.

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