Bad Art museum hits milestone at Dot Brewing

Beer, barbeque, and distinctive art brought together close to a hundred people at the Dorchester Brewing Company on Monday night, June 24, to celebrate 30 years of the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA), a unique institution that collects, exhibits, and celebrates art that generally can’t be found in traditional galleries. The 900 pieces in MOBA’s collection are sometimes donated by artists but have also been found at thrift stores, yard sales, and mixed in with refuse.

The museum has its roots in 1993, when a picture in a pile of trash ended up in Scott Wilson’s and Jerry Reilly’s treasure chest.

“I used to trash pick around the City of Boston pretty regularly, almost every night,” said Wilson. “I found Lucy in a trash pile in Jamaica Plain,” said Wilson, a reference to the picture that came to be called “Lucy in the Field with Flowers.”  He was getting ready to do an antique show in his house in Hyde Park and had a garage full of stuff. “Jerry was visiting,” said Wilson, “and he saw me taking the picture out of the garage. ‘What are you planning on doing with it?’ he asked. ‘Do you think I could have it?’”

After hanging Lucy’s picture in his home, Reilly asked his friends to bring over any similar oddball creations they ran into. Within a few months his living room itself “started looking very odd.” 

Pictured at the MOBA celebration at Dorchester Brewing Co. on June 24:(left to right):Michael Frank, Louise Reilly Sacco, Scott Wilson, and Jerry Reilly. Cassidy McNeeley photo

A few months later, when Reilly moved into a new house, he and his friends “painted the walls white, hung all the paintings, threw a party, and welcomed everyone to the Museum of Bad Art.” When the party was over, it was clear to Reilly that his small collection could grow to be much more. When that happened, he and Wilson passed the administrative torch and the artwork to Reilly’s sister, Louise Reilly Sacco, who is now “the permanent acting interim executive director.” She later asked Michael Frank to join her as the curator-in-chief. 

“It was about the year 2000 that these people decided they had enough,” Frank told the June 24 gathering. “Louise is Jerry’s sister, if you can see the resemblance. They have the same hairstyle. Louise wanted to keep the museum going and she called me.”

While running MOBA, Reilly Sacco and Frank have called both the Dedham Community Theatre and the Somerville Theatre the collection’s home. In the fall of 2022, they moved to DBco’s space on Mass Ave. 

“This has been the best venue so far. In Dedham, we could show about 20 paintings, in Somerville if we squeezed, we could maybe get 33.” Frank said. “Here we have 77 hanging now and if they take those beer signs down, we’re going to fill some more,” joked Frank. 

Inside DBCo, visitors can share a beer in the taproom, dine on M&M’s famous ribs, play some basketball in the game room, and walk up the stairs to the second floor all while being surrounded by what the hosts have deemed to be bad art. 

Some of these pieces include “Flamin’ Hot Cheerleaders,” “Smiling Serpent with a Tomato,” and “Elvis Descending a Staircase.” All of which are paired with brief interpretations written by Frank. 

Added Reilly Sacco: “DBco. has graciously shared their walls. The first time we came here it was just going to be this room. By the second time we came, they said you can have this and this and this.” 

In the last three decades, MOBA has given out a handful of awards that they call the Lucy Award. They have been presented to outstanding supporters of the museum. This year, the award was given to the entire Dorchester Brewing Co. staff. “They have been so kind and supportive of us and all our fans and for that, they get the Lucy Award,” said Reilly Sacco. 

While she is thankful for the neighborhood support and knows the collection has thrived in Dorchester, it is time to take the next big step.

“We told you there would be an international announcement,” she said. “We are going to have a permanent exhibit in Quebec City. One room in the museum will be MOBA. We’re opening on Oct. 18, and on Oct. 19, Mike will be doing and Q & A talk.” 

MOBA has been a part of previous pop-ups in Quebec, and also in Ottawa, Taiwan, and Tokyo, but this will be the institution’s first permanent residency outside of the US.

In reality, “bad” doesn’t fit as the best word to describe MOBA’s art. “We never refer to the art in our collection as terrible,” said Frank. “I think of bad art as opposed to important art. You can go to the ICA and see something that doesn’t really make sense to you, but you know it’s important. Here you can enjoy everything whether you understand it or not. I guess it’s unimportant.”

In addition to the artwork at DBco, MOBA brought along their collection of “rejects.” These are pieces of art that are considered “too good” to be included in the collection. As a way to celebrate three decades of success, Reilly Sacco and Frank encouraged each person at the event to take one of the rejects home.

With that, many left the exhibit with new conversation pieces – and full stomachs after ending the night with slices of the “Lucy in the Field with Flowers” cake.

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