Museum of Bad Art

My friend Jon just sent me this article.  I was glad to see that admission is free to this museum – it would be entertaining to visit, but I wouldn’t want to pay anything in order to see “bad art!”

It sounds, though, like this museum is able to turn “bad art” into something somewhat positive (gasp!) and entertaining.  I enjoyed the quote in the article by Louise Reilly Sacco (the co-founder of the museum): “We celebrate these pieces, and we enjoy them.  Once you get beyond the name of the museum, we never say bad things about them.”

What do you think?  Do you think it’s right for someone to stipulate if art is “bad?” (I don’t have a problem with it, but I could see how such an idea could be controversial.)  Would you visit such a museum?  Would you pay for admission?

*You can check out the website for the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) here.

  • Hels says:

    The concept of bad art is so weird, isn't it?

    Yesterday in class I was citing the French Academy's responses to the Impressionists in 1863. The Salon juries dismissed the newer art form as "infantile daubs", "bad art", "no beauty", "they can't draw" and "dangerous to the sensibilities of decent citizens".

  • e says:

    I would absolutely go to such a museum. Matter of fact, if I'm ever in Boston, I think it is a must-see spot!

    I think I'd be willing to pay too (because let's be honest, you know it would be entertaining), but I wouldn't be willing to pay more than maybe $5 or something.

    Great post, M. I'm going to share it with a lot of people — I think I have a lot of friends that would love the idea of the MOBA.

  • H Niyazi says:

    Labelling Art as "bad" is extremely subjective. Sure, I might not like it – but it may mean something special to another person!

    This type of negative labelling has a chilling antecedent, with the Nazi's pronouncement of 'Degenerate Art', which led to the destruction of so many modern works in the 20s and 30s.

    I often have intriguing discussions with friends from the Asian subcontinent, some of whom tell me they have great difficulty getting anything from the Renaissance works Westerners fawn over. I dare say it has a lot to do with geographic aesthetics and cultural conditioning, I find that fascinating.

    Even myself, as someone accustomed to the intricacies and colours seen in Islamic architecture, I find St Peters a dull white lump compared to Moorish Palaces or The Blue Mosque(etc)

    Bellori and Poussin, and many others, also seemed to vehemently believe Caravaggio was the epitome of "Bad Art", in execution and intention. I don't think there are many who would label Caravaggio that way in the modern era.

    Personally, I think we need to allow others to enjoy a work/style if they want to, whether we personally like it or not. Labelling it as "good" or "bad" is irrelevant.


  • heidenkind says:

    Not sure I would PAY for it, but I'd be up for going, sure. Why the heck not. 🙂

  • Elle says:

    The question of what is bad art has be prefaced with a definition of what IS art and that ultimately is a question of Philosophy…Hmmmm. Anyways, yes I'd see it. I'd love to see why and in what context the art is labelled 'bad'.

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. (And welcome to my blog, Elle!) I like that Hels mentioned the negative responses given to the Impressionists. It is interesting to think about how certain types of art are valued (or devalued) at different points in history. I had never heard the "dangerous to the sensibilities of decent citizens" jibe! Ha!

    I'm glad that someone spoke up about the subjective nature of the "bad art" label, H Niyazi. I completely understand this perspective. Like Elle mentioned, the definition of art is one that is rather philosophical in nature.

    I do think, though, that a Western museum can call something "bad" if it wants to – there are certain artistic standards which are currently upheld by the Western tradition, and if a work of art is found to fall short of those standards, then I think a label is justified. (Although, it should be recognized (and promoted!) that the "bad art" label is very subjective.) I'm speaking from my own experience, too. When I worked in the museum industry, I was able to jury several art shows. The entries were open to the public, and the jury panel had to cut dozens and dozens of paintings from one particular show, because so many of them paled in technical quality (in regards to Western training and the standards of our museum) to other works that had been submitted.

  • Char says:

    I wonder if calling it "bad" is a reverse-psychology marketing strategy. It makes you so curious to see what kind of art is in there!

    I agree with H Niyazi, my first impression was hmmm, sounds like what the Nazis did.

    Although, at the same time, I do think there is some artwork out there that is demeaning, tasteless, and/or unremarkable that I guess could be labeled "bad."

    Very cool question!

  • M says:

    Yeah, Char, I think that the "bad" label is also a marketing strategy. It does make you interested to know what is on display!

    The New York Times wrote its own article on the Museum of Bad Art yesterday. You can read it here.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.