See Masterpieces of Mediocrity at the Museum of Bad Art

Atlas Obscura
Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
Oct. 25 2013 11:03 AM

"Ferret in a Brothel": Just One of the Masterpieces on Display at the Museum of Bad Art

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Woman Riding Crustacean, one of the works in the Museum of Bad Art’s 600-strong collection, is a portrait of a faceless, handless, footless naked woman astride a giant lobster. For reasons unknown, an amorphous black blob encases the woman and her animal. Like the other items in the museum’s collection, the work displays a glaring gap between the artist’s sincerity and skill level.

The Museum of Bad Art began with a single painting found between two trash cans on a Boston street in 1993. Antique dealer Scott Wilson spotted a portrait of an elderly woman dancing in a field of flowers under a yellow sky. In one hand she holds a freshly picked bouquet. In the other, she holds a red armchair. Using this heartfelt but poorly rendered artwork as a foundation piece, Wilson and his friend Jerry Reilly established a bad art collection. Their goal, and the goal of the museum to this day, was to celebrate artists’ enthusiasm and honor failure as an essential part of the creative process.

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Since its inception, the Museum of Bad Art has had rigorous standards. Nine out of every 10 submissions are rejected on the grounds that they display too much artistic competence. Many of the chosen 10 percent -- acquired via donations, thrift stores, yard sales, and trash heaps -- exhibit wonky perspective, confusing symbolism, and lurid color combinations. Artwork depicting humans often omits or mangles hands and feet due to them being difficult to draw.

Twenty-five to 30 items from the museum’s collection are on show at each of its two Boston locations. Official museum commentary accompanies each artwork -- Juggling Dog in Hula Skirt is described as “a fine example of labor-intensive pointlessism” -- but guests are welcome to contribute their own interpretations in the visitor’s book.

Atypical art museums:


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