Thefts at the Museum of Bad Art

I’m not making this up:

The loss of two MOBA works to theft has drawn media attention, and enhanced the museum’s stature. In 1996, the painting Eileen, by R. Angelo Le, vanished from MOBA. Eileen was acquired from the trash by Wilson, and features a rip in the canvas where someone slashed it with a knife even before the museum acquired it, “adding an additional element of drama to an already powerful work,” according to MOBA.

The museum offered a reward of $6.50 for the return of Eileen, and although MOBA donors later increased that reward to $36.73, the work remained unrecovered for many years. The Boston Police listed the crime as “larceny, other,” and Sacco was reported saying she was unable to establish a link between the disappearance of Eileen and a notorious heist at Boston’s famed Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum that occurred in 1990. In 2006—10 years after Eileen was stolen—MOBA was contacted by the purported thief demanding a $5,000 ransom for the painting; no ransom was paid, but it was returned anyway.

Prompted by the theft of Eileen, MOBA staff installed a fake video camera over a sign at their Dedham branch reading: “Warning. This gallery is protected by fake video cameras.” Despite this deterrent, in 2004 Rebecca Harris’ Self Portrait as a Drainpipe was removed from the wall and replaced with a ransom note demanding $10, although the thief neglected to include any contact information. Soon after its disappearance the painting was returned, with a $10 donation. Curator Michael Frank speculates that the thief had difficulty fencing the portrait because “reputable institutions refuse to negotiate with criminals.”

Be sure and notice the camera.

Posted on April 1, 2009 at 12:55 PM29 Comments


AlanS April 1, 2009 2:06 PM

They do bad music as well. U2 made a surprise appearance at the Somerville Theatre MOBA location a couple of weeks ago.

Phil April 1, 2009 2:33 PM


MOBA really exists. It’s not an April Fool’s joke (unlike a lot of other blog stuff I’ve seen today).

AlanS April 1, 2009 3:36 PM

It isn’t an April 1st joke. See

“Our theatre is also home to the Museum of Bad Art! Located in the basement opposite the bathrooms, the MOBA is free with your paid admission to the movies or a live show. Browse through works of wonderfully bad art before or after the show!”

Somerville is also home to the other low forms of art: Do a Google search for Somerville Gates.

Trichinosis USA April 1, 2009 3:37 PM

You’d think they’d combine the cameras with the rest of the bad art. I mean, that camera does absolutely nothing for me. It needs something. There is no joie d’vivre, no pouvoir d’fromage, no…. hm. Oh wait, I’ve got it… perfect!

There. Now THAT is a bad art camera, dahlink. Simply stunning, and evocative of Sun Microsystems at the height of their stock price. I believe I shall have to paint my dual post rack to match it.

I am in SUCH an artistic mood now! I must go off and work on the 2010 “Men Of Photocircuits” calendar.

o.s. April 1, 2009 4:10 PM

“The museum offered a reward of $6.50 for the return of Eileen and although MOBA donors later increased that reward to $36.73, the work remained unrecovered for many years.”
LOL is this for real? I thought the very idea of something being in a museum was that it was priceless or irreplaceable. Hilarious whether true or false… snicker

bob April 1, 2009 4:15 PM


My first post was a joke. And apparently, in keeping with the theme of Bad Art, Badly Stolen, it was a Bad Joke, Badly Phrased.

Anonymous April 1, 2009 4:19 PM

“Self Portrait as a Drainpipe was … replaced with a ransom note demanding $10. Soon the painting was returned, with a $10 donation.”

That sounds like a piece of performance art in itself.

Marcos April 1, 2009 4:33 PM

Hey, an april’s fool prank is only top quality when it is real 🙂

Of course, we have top quality april’s fool pranks the entire year…

Dustin April 1, 2009 6:55 PM

I’ve actually been to the MOBA in Dedham, its pretty amusing. The art really is that bad, and the environment it is in fits it perfectly. 🙂

Anon Y. Mouse April 1, 2009 7:38 PM

The “Self Portrait as a Drainpipe” bit reminds me of an old

I had my accordian in my car when I stopped to run an errand.
As I reached the store, I realized I hadn’t locked the car.
I ran back to do so, but it was too late — somebody had
already broken in and left another accordian.

Snark April 1, 2009 8:17 PM

Perhaps the most dizzying April Fool’s mock-reality came from Wikipedia, which annually redesigns its home page with spoof articles and headlines. The user-generated encyclopedia was even more unreliable than usual on Wednesday. Its feature article was on “the Museum of Bad Art” or “MOBA.”

Eliot April 1, 2009 8:33 PM

I was looking at “simulated security cameras” on Amazon today. They’re kinda pricey $20-$40. I’ve purchased functional cameras for $10 before, but they don’t look like security cameras.

Grant Gould April 1, 2009 9:19 PM

The Somerville MOBA is definitely real — it’s one of the town’s great attractions in my book, and is located in one of the few movie theaters that still sells beer. I have never been to the Dedham MOBA and so cannot confirm its existence personally, but I am confident that it exists as well.

csrster April 2, 2009 4:43 AM

Sure MOBA is for real, but I still don’t know whether the thefts are for real or an April Fool. Maybe that’s the sign of a truly great April Fool – it’s just plausible enough to be believable, whilst being strange enough to make you gawp at the weirdness.

Roger April 2, 2009 6:21 AM

In case anyone doesn’t realise, the Wikipedia custom for 1st April is to feature on the “front page” an article so strange that it seems to be a hoax, but is actually true.

sooth sayer April 2, 2009 9:46 AM

May the the MOBA should put the “money it will pay” notices for removing (stealing) the art from their premises.

Nexxus9 April 2, 2009 11:19 AM

The MOBA used to be in Dedham but it is now primarily situated underneath the Somerville Theatre. I highly recommend a visit! Admission is free when you see a movie at the theatre.

Davi Ottenheimer April 2, 2009 2:02 PM

Surprised the $10 ransom note did not become part of the exhibits.

Can we get a museum of bad security started? Perhaps a contribution from the Schneier doghouse foundation to get things rolling…

Trichinosis USA April 3, 2009 9:24 AM

But “Badly Stolen” tends to imply being caught, doesn’t it, pork chop? ;-7

Louise Sacco April 3, 2009 4:20 PM

Thank you all. As the Permanent Acting Interim Executive Director of MOBA, I am gratified to see how many of our friends jump to our defense when people (like Jake Coyle of AP) claim we don’t exist.

Please visit us in Dedham, Somerville, or on the web.

Our current security challenge is that the students who visit our Somerville location repeatedly destroy our collection box. This is a major problem. We don’t collect enough money to justify a pricey lock box.

Roger April 3, 2009 7:56 PM

@Louise Sacco:

Our current security challenge is that the students who visit our Somerville location repeatedly destroy our collection box. This is a major problem. We don’t collect enough money to justify a pricey lock box.

I presume this box is normally unattended? Lucite donation boxes only cost around $40, and the transparency is a plus (people are more likely to donate if they can see money already in there), however they are intended to be put in locations where they can be watched. It is not easy to get something that is physically robust enough to withstand several minutes of unmonitored attack, yet also quite cheap.

One suggestion might be to build your own, based on a short off-cut of steel pipe. Many construction projects or home handymen will simply throw away very short sections, or be very happy to give them to you. End caps don’t usually get discarded so you will need to buy them, but they only cost a couple of dollars. You will want one that is a snug fit and one that is very slightly oversize. Drill some holes in a line on the side of the pipe, then file them off smoothly, to create a slot where money can be dropped in. Affix the pipe securely to a wall (a good choice here might be a couple of expanding masonry bolts right through the side of the pipe; a right angled ratchet driver will make this much easier.) Weld or braze the upper end cap on (or use high strength industrial adhesive if you don’t have welding or brazing equipment.)

It will be a bit trickier to attach the lower end cap so it is lockable. The simplest method might be a short length of steel bar, with holes drilled through both ends, attached to one of the aforementioned masonry bolts and projecting through a slot in the bottom end cap. This will enable you to simply padlock it in place.

Finally, you will obviously want to paint it garishly!!

Clive Robinson April 4, 2009 5:54 AM

@ Louise Sacco,

“This is a major problem. We don’t collect enough money to justify a pricey lock box.”

An idea that I have seen in a number of small museums etc in the UK,

Ask artists to design your colection boxes.

Ask them to make them novalties such that putting coins in does things like make little models move in interesting and eye catching ways.

Put them in various places around MOBA with nice bright signs saying “this collection box is an invited work by XXXX”

Also make them a “contrasting collection” and make a thing of it at the entrance and in flyers and leaflets etc.

I think with the right aproach a number of fledgling artists would be quite happy to contribute works, not just to get their names mentioned but because of the “originality” of the setting they are trying to counter point in their invited work.

The fact that they are works of art themselves will make them slightly less vulnerable to vandalisum. But also as they are designed to collect only coins they are also less likley to be targeted as the reward is small and heavy.

Further you can make a “strong box” (as Roger suggested) for them underneath a metal shelf / plate / pedastal on which the “artwork” is placed that the coin drops into.

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