Basement of Dedham Community Theatre
580 High Street
Dedham MA 02026 (map)
Basement of Somerville Theatre
55 Davis Square
Somerville MA 02144 (map)
46 Tappan St., Top Floor
Brookline MA 02445 (map)
Free entry. The Dedham and Somerville branches are open whenever films are showing at the theatres, and the Brookline branch is open during BATV opening times.
MY SHORT STORY:
- Instead of being offensively terrible, the art displayed in the Museum of Bad Art (MOBA) is endearingly ‘too bad to be ignored.’
- The museum is a non-profit organisation that is free to the public. It started when an arts and antique dealer called Scott Wilson found a painting now known as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Flowers’ in a pile of rubbish on the roadside in 1993. His friend Jerry Reilly liked it so much that he insisted on keeping it. The two guys, with a little help from three other friends and family members, set up MOBA in Jerry’s basement. They moved to the basement of Dedham Community Theatre the following year, and two branches in Brookline and Somerville opened a few years ago.
- I had a chance to meet Mike Frank, MOBA’s current Curator, and Louise Sacco, one of the museum’s original founders and current Executive Director. They told me that sincerity and originality are factors they look for in the paintings they choose to display, not unlike the criteria used to select works in traditional galleries. The works have to have started off as a serious attempt that went wrong for whatever reason. They like all paintings on display.
- Mike and Louise insist that they are not out to offend anyone, but rather to mock the pretentious artspeak used by art critics.
- I personally really love the paintings, as they are all insane but still pretty and quirky. You can’t help but wonder just what the artists were thinking when they made these works. It’s really interesting finding out the stories behind them.
- MOBA is a magical and cheerful place for second chances, and breathes new life into abandoned pieces with lighthearted humour. I love it!
MY FULL STORY: As some of you may have read in my Northern Art Prize and other articles, I have been getting quite angry about what Art seems to have come to become these days. It’s as though anyone can create any piece of crap and as long as it is prettily framed it can sit quite comfortably on a stately gallery wall.
So is there such thing as ‘bad art’? My answer lies in three wonderfully underground locations around Boston, Massachusetts – the tongue-in-cheekily named Museum of Bad Art (MOBA). But instead of being disgusted by the works on display, I was actually very attracted to them when I visited their Brookline and Somerville branches, perhaps because they aren’t pretentious at all. There is actually something very endearing and quirky about each painting.
Take Mari Newman’s ‘Bone-Juggling dog in a Hula Skirt,’ one of the museum’s resident heroes children usually love. It is an explosion of nonsensical madness on canvas, but you can’t help loving the dog’s playful expression and wonder just what the artist was thinking when she created this.
As it turns out, in case you were wondering the same thing, Newman had originally wanted to just paint a wiener dog standing upright. When the attempt failed however, she decided to add random things to it, including a hula skirt (inspired by girls in a magazine) and dog bones being juggled (inspired by a visit to the pet store).
Gisela Keller’s ‘Elián Gonález’s Grandmothers’ is another favourite of mine. The garden in the painting is stunningly painted, as are the two ladies strolling in it – and yet something doesn’t quite fit. For one thing, they seem to be slightly too small for their surroundings. For another, they have no shadows, so they are literally just floating in the landscape. Still, it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s beautiful on a very basic level.
‘The way that we select our works is actually very similar to traditional galleries,’ explained Louise Sacco, one of the original founders and now the Executive Founders of MOBA. ‘We still look for originality, sincerity… we have very strict criteria.’
Mike Frank, MOBA’s Curator, agrees sincerity is an important factor and that they have to feel drawn to the works.
‘We like all of them. If we don’t then why would we put them on display?’ asked Mike.
More a labour of love than anything else, MOBA is a non-profit organisation that runs purely on donations, book sales and the generosity of bad art lovers and supporters.
The variety of art on show all have their own stories and origins. Some are donated by the artists directly, but most are ‘rescued,’ as Louise likes to call it, from thrift shops or rubbish dumps.
So what counts as bad art?
‘I think the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art are problematic,’ Mike said. ‘The works on display at traditional galleries are important. The ones you get here are just a bit off, for one reason or another. You won’t find them anywhere else.’
‘They have to have started off as a serious attempt,’ Louise agreed. ‘But went wrong either because it was a bad concept in the first place or that it was just poorly executed.’
The story of MOBA began in 1993 when an arts and antiques dealer called Scott Wilson found a painting – now known affectionately as ‘Lucy in the Sky with Flowers’ – in a pile of rubbish on the roadside. He had originally only wanted the frame to sell as antique, but when he showed it to his friend Jerry Reilly, Jerry insisted on keeping the whole thing.
And so ‘Lucy’ was hung along with other acquired works in Jerry’s basement for a year, managed by Scott, Jerry, Jerry’s wife Marie Jackson, sister Louise Sacco, and their late photographer friend Tom Stankowicz. By 1994 the makeshift gallery had acquired a fair bit of fame and media coverage, and they moved to a somewhat more formal home – the basement of the Dedham Community Theatre, where it still stands now.
Their Somerville and Brookline galleries opened a few years ago, and the three galleries are now popular local attractions.
Louise and Mike are both careful to stress that they are not out to offend the artists or their art – but to celebrate them. In all the years that they have been involved with MOBA, there was only one case of complaint. Most other artists are delighted when they find that their works are on display there. After all, who doesn’t want their works to be displayed in public?
‘We don’t accept works by students or children – we have made it a thing that all art by them are good art because we don’t want to discourage or make fun of anybody. If there’s anything we want to mock, it’s the high brow, pretentious artspeak used by critics,’ Louise said. ‘And they’d just have to get over that!’
However, not everyone ‘gets’ the idea behind MOBA and what it represents, as Andrea Kalsow tells me. Andrea works at Brookline Access Television, the office lobby of which is the location of MOBA Brookline. She personally loves the works, but does sometimes see visitors who just obviously have no clue what the artworks are about.
‘This guy took his friends here once and he was so enthusiastic in trying to explain why they are “bad art,” but his friends just didn’t get it at all!’
To me, these works are examples of poor communication that still look pretty. Art is about expression, but there are times when they just don’t work out the way that the artist had intended. And there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as they recognise it and don’t try to pass it off as important art. In most cases I can still see the intention or idea behind the works, which I think is the most important part.
I love the fact that MOBA has been set up as a forum to display art that would have been abandoned otherwise. It is a magical and cheerful place for second chances, and breathes new life into brave but thwarted attempts of creativity with lighthearted humour.
And the best part? Unlike most galleries and museums in America, MOBA is absolutely free and accessible to all.
I was thoroughly amused and delighted by my visits. Three cheers for the low brow, wicked bad art!
WHAT: Art exhibition
WHERE: Yorkshire Sculpture Park (map)
WHEN: 17th Mar 12 – 6th Jan 13
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
This was the first time I have ever been to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but it was an incredible first visit as I was invited to a preview of the first major Miró sculptures exhibition in the UK.
- Miró’s sculptures represent nature and life. His more delicate works are displayed in the Underground Gallery, but other larger works are shown outdoors where they belong. The playfulness in all of them is self-evident.
- There are three types of Miró’s sculptures on display here, which were made at three different forgeries. The first are black, smooth and solid; the second are colourful and embody various found objects; the third are more delicate and often contain shoes, which represent birds.
- Birds are an important motif in Miró’s works. His mythical Solar and Lunar Birds appear in two thirds of his pieces after he came up with the idea in the late 1940s.
- Miró himself sounds like a wonderfully quirky guy. He did not believe in knowing too much and instead preferred to let other artists influence him. He also used to get his inspirations by doing gymnastics on the beach.
- I really enjoyed wandering around his art. Despite the difficult times he lived through his works remained positive and child-like, and a beautiful dynamic exist between them and the visitors. Not to be missed.
MY FULL STORY: I have been berated time and again. ‘You live in Leeds and you’ve never been to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park?’ People always ask in that patronising tone with judging eyes of astonishment. I know, I know, but say no more because I have finally made my first visit. And what a first visit that was – I was invited to the national press conference there last Wednesday for a preview of the first major Miró sculptures exhibition in the UK.
I have to admit that I did not know much about the great artist prior to my visit, and had no idea that he was such a prolific sculptor. But the exhibition at the Park proves that he was a master of both trades.
Miró’s art progressed very much as a journey. He started off with the 2D paintings he is most renowned for, and then moved on to collages, then to making sculptures with found objects (he was a forager, so to say), then to ceramics, before sculpting in brass. That said, he would return to the various media throughout his career.
He very much saw his sculptures as parts of nature, and hoped that they would ‘be confused with [...] tree, rocks, roots, mountains, plants, flowers.’ This exhibition, which is a collaboration between Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Miró’s trust and family, grants that wish. Although his more delicate pieces are displayed in the Underground Gallery, a lot of his larger works are shown outdoors in the vast green spaces of the Park.
I love the playfulness in his works. His coloured sculptures, such as ’Monsieur et Madame’ (Sir and Madam), 1969 or ‘Personnage’ (Personage), 1967, are like 3D versions of his paintings. They are bold and subtle at the same time, and it is impossible to ignore their humour.
In fact, the more Sarah Coulson, Assistant Curator of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, told me about Miró, the more I wish I could have met him.
‘His sons used to find their toys missing before seeing them cast in [the artist's] sculptures a few days later,’ Coulson giggled. ‘And he used to do gymnastics on the beach to get inspirations.’ He sounds like a wonderful guy.
Furthermore, Miró was very much anti-elitist. ‘He was a print-maker,’ said Coulson. ‘He wanted people to be able to own his works, and prints were the most affordable option.’
This is evident even in his sculptures, for they are not objects of grandeur. They depict everyday things like chairs and birds, but are impressive in their own rights.
I thought that the giant black pieces in Room One – namely ‘Oiseau solaire’ (‘Solar Bird’) 1966, ‘Oiseau lunaire’ (‘Lunar Bird’) 1966, and ‘Femme (Femme debout)’ (‘Woman (Standing Woman)’) 1969 – stood out in particular. They were simply shaped, but smooth, elegant, and powerful at the same time. Miró supposedly came up with the idea of the mythical birds in the late 1940s, and they since appeared in two thirds of his works. He was particularly interested in their duality of sex and colour.
The third type of works that could be found at the exhibition are also made of bronze. However, in contrast to the black, solid blocks or the colourful pieces, these ones are a lot more delicate. They have a more greenish-copper shade to them, and often embody shapes of shoes, which are meant to symbolise birds.
Each type of work – the coloured, the black, the fragile – was made at a different forgery. Miró was notoriously innovative, but he also strongly believed that one should not know too much. In fact, he preferred working in collaboration with other artist so that they could influence him instead.
I really enjoyed being amongst Miró’s sculptures. There is a sense of them interacting with each other, as well as with the visitors. Although the artist had lived through difficult times, having suffered a breakdown in the early 1920s and constantly had to be on the move to keep his family safe from wars, his art remained positive. There is so much life in them, and his inquisitiveness never died even at the end of his life.
This is not an exhibition to be missed.
WHAT: Play (Comedy)
WHERE: Stage@Leeds (map)
WHEN: 27th Feb, 12
WHO: The Paper Birds
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Thirsty is Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh’s attempt to decipher our nation’s love for booze. They had originally wanted to tell the other, less clichéd stories, but in the end they gave in and told the one that kept coming up: the one about 18-year-old girls who had just started university and were desperate to fit in.
- The way the girls built the show was very research-heavy. They set up a drunken hotline, blog, and questionnaire one year ago and waited for the stories to come in.
- There isn’t much of a structure to the play, but it is funny and raises some serious questions regardless – do we only find it funny because we’ve all been there?
- Overall it still makes for a good, sober night out. Catch them at the Leeds Carriageworks on 20th and 21st March!
MY FULL STORY [edited version first published on digyorkshire.com on 2nd March, 12]: After spending most of their research and development trying to focus on the less clichéd stories of alcohol – like how a mother of two would reward herself with a gin and tonic after the kids go to bed – Jemma McDonnell and Kylie Walsh eventually gave up and gave in.
Henry James had insisted that ‘the story won’t tell.’ Thirsty, however, ended up telling the story that they really didn’t want to tell, but the one that they couldn’t get away from because it kept coming up again and again: ‘She’s 18. She has just started university…’
I’m not sure if I liked the way the play is physically structured – there wasn’t really much of a structure or even a plot to speak of, as it was more of an exploration of alcohol in general. But as someone who has gone through all the drink-fuelled freshers parties just a couple years ago, I could nonetheless relate to what they were saying quite personally.
‘She has just left home for the first time. She feels free. She’s having a good time. She wants to make friends.’ Besides, if she doesn’t drink, then she’ll be the odd one out.
It was quite a strange experience – watching the play was like watching a dramatised version of what I used to do back then. Although that said, I must admit I was never hardcore enough to literally drench myself in spirits, and never ended my nights out with my head in the toilet. Think of me as being more of a tipsy hugger.
The show was filled with laugh-out-loud parts, and the girls looked like they were enjoying themselves onstage as they downed glass after glass (‘I feel… I feel like YES!’), but it also raised questions. Was it only funny because they were (pretending to be) intoxicated? Were we laughing only because we’ve all been there? Do we all have a problem and are we all going to hell?
The way Paper Birds created the play was interestingly research heavy, as they revealed. A year ago, they set up a blog, a questionnaire and a drunken hotline, and waited for stories to come in. They asked participants and callers to share their alcohol-related stories, as well as give their opinions on various topics.
One gentleman whose message was played out amongst many others, for example, declared that ‘drunken women are scary.’ But most of the people who called were first year girls who confessed every dirty detail of the last parties they went to. And so Jemma and Kylie decided to base their work on those.
Consciously trying to avoid sounding like moralisers, the girls made it very clear in the post-show talk that they ‘don’t want people to watch the show and think that they should give up drinking – we still drink loads. We just wanted to debate if there’s anything wrong with our nation’s love for booze.’
Although I suppose Thirsty’s inconclusiveness was rather liberating, I couldn’t help feeling a bit frustrated by it at the same time. What was the point they were trying to make? But then again do we always need to get answers? There are times when we want to go to the theatre just for a laugh. And besides, there’s no doubt that it still made for a great, sober alternative to a popped-up night out in town.
Catch Thirsty at Leeds Carriageworks on 20th and 21st March!
WHAT: Play (Drama/Thriller)
WHERE: Bradford Alhambra Theatre (map)
WHEN: 7th – 10th Mar, 12; check tour dates for other shows
WHO: West End touring production
MY STORY IN A NUTSHELL:
- Like lots of youngsters in the country, I studied An Inspector Calls for GCSE, and so I was very excited to see it. The performance did not disappoint, although it seems to be a love/hate thing – like the marmite in theatre form.
- This West End revival is legendary director Stephen Daldry’s 1992 National Theatre debut. No one expected such success in the beginning.
- The plot revolves around the mysterious Inspector Goole interrogating each member of the wealthy and arrogant Birling family after a working class girl named Eva Smith committed suicide. As the story unfolds we learn that each of them had a part to play in her tragedy, and that ultimately ‘we are responsible for each other.’
- Visually this is an extremely striking production. Daldry daringly moved away from the traditional set, but his visions back then turned out to be as accurate in hindsight. Very well cast, too.
- A powerful and still relevant piece of theatre that cannot be ruined despite the incessant chatter of its largely middle school audience.
MY FULL STORY [edited version first published on digyorkshire.com on 9th March, 12]: Along with a considerable chunk of Britain’s younger demographic, I studied J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls during my GCSE years. It was one of those plays that made a very deep impression on me, partly because of its clear and simple message, partly because I was lucky enough to have been extremely well taught.
To see the play onstage has been on my wish-list ever since those high school days, so you can imagine my excitement when the West End touring production came to Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre.
Judging by comments that I eavesdropped on post-show, it seems like it was one of those performances that you either love or hate. Sort of like marmite in theatre form – I was on the side of the lovers.
When the legendary director Stephen Daldry decided to make his National Theatre debut in 1992 with a revival of Priestley’s classic thriller, nobody could have predicted how successful it would become. He took considerable risks and made a few daring changes to the staging of the play, but his visions back then turned out to be accurate in hindsight.
An Inspector Calls is a play essentially about how ‘we are responsible for each other’ in society. The Birlings are a wealthy and influential family in town. At the beginning of the play they were celebrating the engagement of the daughter, Sheila, to Gerald Croft, the son of her father’s business rival.
A mysterious police inspector, Inspector Goole, interrupts the dinner party and informs them that a young working class girl named Eva Smith had just committed suicide. As he interrogates each family member in turn, it slowly emerges that each of them has had a part to play in the girl’s ultimate tragedy.
Traditionally, the play is usually set in the dining room of the Birlings’ house, but Daldry decided to zoom it out to encompass a wider setting. When the curtains were raised, a huge blast of smoke engulfed the audience, as though dragging us into their world. Rain fell from the ceiling of the stage and landed on cobbled pavement as children beggars scavenged for food.
The Birlings’ house was raised on stilts at the back of the stage and the family could be seen and heard inside it. As Inspector Goole began his interrogation, however, the front of the house opened up and revealed the secrets beneath its extravagant exterior.
The visual element of the show was striking in a disturbing way, à la Tim Burton, and images of the set haunted me long after the show ended, it worked well and consolidated the context of the play.
The cast, too, was superb. The presence of Inspector Goole (Tom Mannion) was less sinister than I had expected, and he frequently interacted with the children beggars warmly, albeit silently. Still, he was a commanding figure and the whole family evidently buckled under his stern questioning.
Arthur and Sibyl Birling (Geoff Leesley and Karen Archer) made a ridiculously arrogant couple, but I was most impressed with Kelly Hotten as Sheila. At the beginning she was ditzy and spoilt, but like her brother Eric (Henry Gilbert), clearly showed that she has transformed into a much more socially-aware character by the end.
A very powerful piece of theatre with a message that is as relevant today as it ever was. It refuses to be ruined even by the incessant chatter and inappropriate laughter of its largely middle school audience.
When looking for audience participation, how do you pick your volunteers?
Apart from ‘Tape Face’ what other shows (comedy or otherwise) have you taken part in?
Do you constantly add new elements to the show? Where do you get your inspirations?
You’ll be touring everywhere from Dubai to South Africa – how did you first break into the international stage?
What is the most difficult thing about being a mime comedian?
Any words of wisdom for all the budding comedians out there?
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Click here to read my review of Sam’s show at Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, Leeds!