Louise Sacco and Michael Frank may be the kindest art curators on the East Coast. Louise is the Permanent Interim Acting Director of the Museum of Bad art, and Michael is the Curator. Together, they give a platform to artworks that are transcendently terrible. But don’t mistake these two for a pair of cynical art word bullies.
Louise and Michael speak with real love for the pieces they display. They seek out art showcasing questionable artistic and fine execution, or fine intentions and questionable execution. By accepting pieces that would never make past the art world’s quality control standards, the pair are simultaneously giving a platform to artists who wouldn’t otherwise have one, and introducing people to art in an unserious way.
CONVICTS recently hit Boston to see what the Museum of Bad Art was all about. There we got Louise and Michael’s words on outsider art, the ambiguity of modern art, and the word “interpretate” they invented to describe art too mind-boggling to describe with regular language.
Hey Louise. To start, can you tell us a bit about your collection?
We’ve got about 700 pieces in our collection and we only have room to show 25 here and we have two other locations that show a total of maybe 35 more. So, we change the exhibit occasionally; they are always themed exhibits. The theme of the current one is, “The MOBA’s Zoo”.
So let’s jump right in. What is the purpose of the Museum of Bad Art?
The purpose of our museum is to collect, exhibit, and celebrate art that wouldn’t make it in a traditional museum. We didn’t see any other museum that was doing that: sharing art in which something had gone wrong. It’s also important to say that we love this art and we never say anything bad about it beyond the name of our museum. We do an interpretation of each piece. We “interpretate” each piece. Interpret is inadequate. We help people see what we see in the pieces or the questions that are raised or why we think it is interesting and worth while. We are also making art more approachable for people who might be intimidated by traditional galleries and museums. We might be their first step to taking a look at art.
Do you think that art world takes itself a little too seriously?
Oh yes! We are celebrating the art and the artists, if we are poking a little fun at anyone it’s art writers and art critics and some of the people who take it very, very seriously.
How does one get in to MOBA?
In the early days, people would just ship us their art. The UPS truck would pull up with three or four more paintings, and very often we didn’t want them: they weren’t interesting, they weren’t art, they weren’t original or sincere. These days, people generally email us a photo first, but we still end up with some things that we don’t want. Those things go into the rejection collection. Every few years we have an auction for the rejection collection pieces. Each piece comes with a certificate that says, “this was rejected by the Museum of Bad Art.” It is demanding.
Some of these pieces are anonymous. Do you always track the artists down?
When we can. We track the artists down but most often our artists are not findable on Google. The artist we have found are, for the most part, happy to be in our museum. If we use one of their pieces in a book, we pay them a release for the use of the image. Once in awhile — maybe twice since 1994 — an artist has been unhappy that we have their piece in which case we offer to destroy it or return it to them.
That’s awesome. What’s the future of MOBA?
The future of MOBA (laughter), that’s a good question! MOBA right now is expecting to have a calendar for 2018. Definitely 2019. We are expecting to do a third book soon and hoping to go to Tokyo in Fall of ’18. The sky’s the limit!
Last question for you: where is the line between intentional ironic art and unintentional awful pieces?
The line between intentional bad art and sincere art is not an easy one to define. Our curator will tell you it’s like pornography, he knows it when he sees it. If art is intentionally bad there is a lack of sincerity in it; it’s just not interesting.
That’s great, thanks Louise. On that note, let’s switch gears and ask the curator a few questions. To start can you introduce yourself?
I’m Michael Frank and I’m the curator and chief of the MOBA.
And how did you come to be involved?
I was not one of the original founders of the museum but I heard about soon after it opened and immediately started donating pieces. At some point, the people who started the museum decided to move on and Louise asked if I would help find a suitable curator. We did a worldwide search, and decided that in fact I was a suitable curator to take over the role.
Where do you search for bad art? Where is the best place to find this type of art?
I personally cannot pass a yard sale, thrift store, or an interesting pile of trash on the side of the road without looking for something. In addition, about half of the pieces come from all over the world, people donate works that they have, that they found, that they believe would be appropriate for a collection.
So what’s the criteria? Is it the more awful the piece, the more interesting?
Well, I don’t think of them in terms of awful pieces. I think of bad art as opposed to important art and there is a fine line between. If I believe something was made intentionally in an attempt to get into our collection, usually I will not accept it. We look for pieces that were made in an honest attempt to create art but pieces in which went wrong in execution or in the original concept.
Do you have a favorite piece here?
That’s very difficult. You might as well ask which is my favorite child.
Fair. Tell us about the term “interpretate.”
Some of the pieces in the collection are so vexing that merely interpreting them is insufficient so we had to invent a new word; we “interpretate” the pieces to help people understand what they are looking at.
Can you talk a bit about some of the shows you’ve put on?
The show up in the gallery now is called the “MOBA’s Zoo”. The last show that was up here was called “Doppelgängers,” which was a show of paintings that — intentionally or not — resembled famous people. What else have we done? Poor Traits, Oozing my Religion.
Could any of this be considered outsider art?
There is an invisible line between our collection and outsider art. Outsider art is basically art that has been created by somebody who has not had formal art training. It’s art that does not come from the traditional art world.
Are there interesting stories behind any of your pieces?
We have a piece called He Was A Friend of Mine by Jack Owen. When we shared the piece, a man contacted me and told me that his father was named Mr. Owen. His father had befriended a homeless man named Jack who would paint pictures. Mr Owen would give Jack materials to paint and Jack would give Mr. Owen the finished paintings. Mr. Owen would then have them mounted professionally. When Mr. Owen died, his son went to clean out his house and found an attic full of these paintings by Jack Owen. I was lucky to find this one in a thrift store.
How does the context — being named the Museum of Bad Art — play into what you all are trying to achieve?
When I go to many museums I’m often at a loss to understand why any particular painting is considered important. We call attention to the fact that the circumstances under which you encounter a piece of art affects the way you perceive it. The reality is that if someone encountered some of our images in a more traditional museum, there would be certain assumptions made about the pieces.
True. Louise, Michael. It’s been great. Best of luck with next year.