Torturous portraits

Crappy art near Somerville johns
By IAN SANDS  |  May 21, 2008

VOILA! Sunday on the Pot with George
If you’d gone downstairs to pee during a movie two Wednesdays ago at the Somerville Theatre, chances are you stumbled upon a gallery opening in the works. The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) was celebrating the release of its book, The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks, as well as christening a new space — MOBA 2, it’s being called — in the theater’s basement, around the corner, yes, from the johns. True to form, MOBA fashioned the event as a send-up of a typical gallery opening. Instead of wine and cheese, there were Cheetos and grape juice. And in what was an especially nice touch, a fake security camera was perched in a corner.

MOBA may be the arbiter of all things hideous in the art world, but even it has standards. One of the first things I confronted was a section devoted to “Not Bad Art.” I learned that paintings on velvet, children’s art, and something called “tourist art” (à la resort-town sidewalk sales) were not MOBA-worthy. See, it’s not enough that a piece is run-of-the-mill bad — it has to be bad in an interesting way.

With this in mind, they gave us Queen of the Chocolate Chip, a portrait of Her Majesty in full regale clutching a tiny cookie, which the MOBA folks pitched as a commentary on royalism’s growing estrangement from the modern world. There was also Sunday on the Pot with George, a pointillist piece depicting a fat, near-naked man in the bathroom for which the artist was meticulous in his construction of the minutest details but had quite unbelievably not provided his subject with feet.

Some of these pieces have made appearances before in the museum’s original location in Dedham. That collection, much like MOBA 2, sits in the basement of an old movie theater near the bathrooms. There is one major difference between the two MOBAs, however. Dedham’s is free; Somerville’s cannot be viewed without first purchasing a movie ticket.

Will this discourage people from visiting the new space? Possibly. But the MOBA folks have assured me that the gallery will be free on special occasions. Plus, MOBA 2 has other things going for it, like, uh, it’s not in Dedham.

Indeed, a lot of guests had never managed to “get out there” to MOBA, and were glad for the opportunity to deconstruct the works at hand. Asked about his favorite of the collection, MOBA first timer Nicolas Thouvignon, of Somerville, launched into a strident analysis of He Was a Friend of Mine, which features a menacing cat and the outline of a dog looking on from the heavens, accompanied by the quote: “Who else thinks it’s a good idea to eat from my bowl?”

“So their interpretation is that the cat killed this dog companion, but it can also be that he truly was a friend of the cat,” concluded Thouvignon. “And the cat is sad but proud that this dog once was his friend.”

Perhaps the worst idea for a painting I saw that night was a multi-media-of-sorts work salvaged from the trash by a friend of MOBA’s in Seattle and unveiled by tuxedoed-curator Michael Frank. The portrait, titled Worried Guy, is truly hideous: a painting of the title worrier’s head festooned with real curls of thick wire in place of hair. The wire, in turn, holds small scraps of paper on which are written the guy’s worries — “spiders,” “having too much work,” and “large bodies of water.”

It’s doubtful that even the artist’s mother could have found a kind word for it. “It sure is something, son. Tell me, have you heard of this thing called MOBA? I think you’re right up their alley.”

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Visual Arts, Cultural Institutions and Parks, Museums,  More more >
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