Polykhromatic: On art and accessibility

Boston’s close proximity to our campus places renowned works of art at an arm’s distance away. Wandering the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), expect to stumble upon a room encircled by Monet landscapes or centered on the stunning work of Kehinde Wiley. Much of this art is impressive, but when judging the value of other pieces of art, a viewer can be subconsciously swayed to align with a conventional opinion perpetuated by concepts of prestige. A painting you may initially think of as requiring little talent or time to produce may transform into something treasured purely based on how the museum, the art world and society at large appraise it. This manipulation of opinion can be frustrating. What if there was a place where you could view art that requires little talent to complete, and where this valuation of the art is unanimously agreed upon? 

As it turns out, there is. It’s close by, and it’s worth checking out.

The Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) is nestled away in a corner of the Somerville Theatre basement in Davis Square. There are no security guards monitoring the entryway, and there are no ropes or alarms protecting the paintings that hang, sometimes lopsided, along the walls of the confined gallery.

MOBA’s slogan, “Art too bad to be ignored,” fits perfectly with the current collection on display. The exhibition succeeds in its main goals: making art light, fun and accessible, and offering significant entertainment value.

Accessibility has long been a problem for the art world. Some art is inaccessible because entrance fees to museums are expensive, or because schools do not offer a robust enough curriculum surrounding the arts. Other art is inaccessible, however, on the premise that the subject matter does not resonate with the masses, and instead applies to an elite perspective. MOBA displays work that relates to pop culture and that is communicable to a wide audience.

One of my favorite pieces currently on display at MOBA is “Joan Crawford.” It features a very loose visual interpretation of the film legend. Lacking in realistic proportion, the portrait captures a flat, grey face with a too-wide tight-lipped smile. The accompanying wall text ends by stating, “The artist achieves, intentionally or otherwise, a wonderful synthesis of two of the Silver Screen’s most cherished icons: Ms. Crawford and Andre the Giant.” Each piece in the museum features similar commentary that allows guests to enjoy subpar art through comedy.

Those without an art history degree may feel disconnected from the dialogue in the art world. However, the MOBA, which is dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition and celebration of bad art in all its forms,” makes anyone who enters the museum feel qualified to form an opinion on the artwork presented.

In addition, MOBA makes art accessible by urging guests to revel in a space where all art, regardless of aesthetic appeal, is understood beyond the typical standards set by conventional art society. If you have a few minutes to spare while in Davis Square, be sure to give this tucked-away gallery a visit.

– Sarah Kotis, Polykhroma


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