Local activist displays love of bad art in book


Courtesy Photo
“Nice Blueish Boy” is the depiction of the ancient parable in which a Blueish mother gave her son a green shirt and a yellow shirt for his birthday. When he next visited his mother, the nice Blueish boy wore the green shirt, only to hear his mother cry, ‘What’s the matter, you didn’t like the yellow one?’” writes Michael Frank, co-author of “The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks.” The painting is an oil on canvas by an anonymous artist Frank purchased at a yard sale in Brookline.

Jamaica Plain resident Michael Frank is currently enjoying much success with his recently published book “The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks.” Frank is the curator-in-chief of the actual Museum of Bad Art, a gallery with two locations in Somerville and Dedham completely dedicated to art gone wrong. These portraits, landscapes and “abstract” pieces can make the viewer laugh, think and maybe even gain a new appreciation for truly good art.

Along with co-author Louise Reilly Sacco, Frank wrote most of the text that accompanies photographs of 90 pieces of art. The book, published in May, includes some of the gallery’s worst of the worst, along with witty captions and accounts of where the art was found or bought.

Frank—connoisseur of and commentator on art—is probably better known locally as children’s entertainer “Mike the Hatman” and the head of the Regan Youth League baseball program.

All of the art in the museum and in the book was once thought of as trash, but Frank said he saw a different fate for the works. “These pictures would not be shown or interpreted in any other museums. We celebrate the fact that people tried,” said Frank.

So, what exactly are the criteria for a piece to make it into the museum?

“We’re interested in someone who set out to make art, but something went wrong along the way,” Frank said, “If I look at a picture and I wonder what that person was thinking, that is pretty much an indication that piece belongs in our gallery.”

Many wonder how art can be defined in such terms, because good and bad is subjective, but Frank pointed out, “There couldn’t be good art if there wasn’t bad art.”

In the museum’s 14-year history, only one person has complained of their art being in the museum, Frank said. The woman threw away her painting, and it was found in the trash and displayed in the gallery. After she called, the piece was immediately removed and discarded.

Frank not only runs the museum, but he is also an avid appreciator of the art. In fact two pieces from the museum’s collection, “Elian Gonzalez’s Grandmothers” and “Sad Baby” are currently hanging in his Pondside home. “I like all the art,” he said. “I don’t think that [the works] would be treated as fine art anywhere else.”

Both the museum and book have gotten stellar reviews from publications such as “Rolling Stone” and “The Wall Street Journal.” “The Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks,” published by Ten Speed Press, is available at local stores Rhythm and Muse, Jamaicaway Books and Gifts, Cobwebs and City Feed and Supply. It is also sold in museum gift shops and bookstores across the country. The web site, www.MuseumOfBadArt.org has a sampling of some of the museums pieces.

The writer is an intern from WriteBoston. She will be a senior at Odyssey High School next fall.

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