Jack Owen, After Rehab, date unknown, colored pencil on paper. Courtesy of the Museum of Bad Art, Dedham, Massachusetts.
Every two years (or three, or four—it really all depends), the Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts, holds an eagerly anticipated Rejection Collection Auction. Since 1993, MOBA has been dedicated to the collection and display of gloriously failed artworks: pieces created either by talented artists off their game or sincere enthusiasts with a special lack of competence. On April 23, the museum auctioned off 60 paintings and sculptures “not quite bad enough” for its permanent collection.
One such work was the anonymous painting Amoeba. “At least I think it’s an amoeba,” faltered Auctioneer and Curator-in-Chief Michael Frank. “It may be a paramecium.” A voice from the back of the movie theater-turned-auction house suggested that it was, in fact, neither; that it was an ovum and the proximal squiggly lines represented sperm. Frank shrewdly renamed the piece The Moment of Conception, spurring on an intense round of bidding that ultimately resulted in the work’s sale for $32.
Another sought-after work was a female nude rendered in tonal fluorescents. Upon retrieving the work, the painting’s winning bidder gleefully announced, “It’s worse than I thought!” Each auctioned work was accompanied by a certificate of authenticity, verifying it as having been officially rejected by the Museum of Bad Art.
The evening climaxed with the battle for After Rehab, an ethereal portrait of a blond pop-star sporting recently shorn hair. “We knew it would be one of the big ones,” said MOBA’s Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director Louise Sacco. “There’s just such a story, such tragedy in that woman’s face.” The bidding was incremental, often a dollar at a time, but spirited, and the painting eventually sold for $70.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit several local charities, including the Cambridge Sanitation Department. “Several of their workers have been invaluable donors to the museum, saving priceless works from the ignominy of the public refuse system,” says Sacco. “We want to encourage them to keep up the good work.”
The Cambridge Sanitation Department plans to use the money for an all-employee party.