Back in 1980, the art dealer John Cheim organized a show at Robert Miller Gallery called "Found Paintings," in which he invited artists to exhibit works that they had discovered at flea markets, garage sales or the Salvation Army. Thus were the floodgates of "thrift store art" opened in the Postmodernist art world. Today, art lovers seek out found-art masterpieces for their primitive honesty, poetic forgottenness -- and low price.
Here is a selection of web sites that specialize in found art. They all seem to be constructed purely out of love and enthusiasm -- the art isn't for sale!
Jim Shaw's Thrift Store Art
This subsite within the webzine Word presents works from the celebrated "Thrift Store Art Show" organized by California artist Jim Shaw. Most cherished are the deadpan titles with which the paintings have been christened, such as Psycho Lady, Pink Poodle and Hydrant with Text and Man with No Crotch Sits Down with Girl.
The PSB Gallery of Thrift Store Art
Acknowledging Jim Shaw's show as an inspiration, this site presents loads of bad art divided into seven galleries. Plus, it's regularly updated. You'll find great unknown masterpieces like Man in Robe Surprised by Death, and Night Scene with Egg and Thunderstorm. Webmaster Paul's comments are a little superfluous -- is it really necessary to say anything about a painting of a lion in spats? -- but the site's great amount of ridiculous art and its no-nonsense design make it a must-see.
Another excellent site with a generous amount of images, Vito Salvatore's succinctly named badart.com introduces genre-crossing masterpieces like Stop, Cowbird!, a painting of Mickey Mouse dressed like a transit cop motioning a pelican riding a cow to a halt. And don't miss the mysterious Why Am I Naked?, in which a perplexed nude sits next to a small animal of undetermined species. Special features on this exceptionally witty site include "Torture your friends with bad art" and "Buy a Bad Art T-Shirt" (they're $19.95).
Museum of Bad Art
The best known of the thrift-store art sites is the Museum of Bad Art, which has been featured in the New York Times and on Good Morning America and the Today Show. The Boston-based MoBA is definitely the most active site of this type, holding exhibitions with inspired names like "Bright Colors / Dark Emotions" and "Know What You Like / Paint How You Feel" at real venues like Montserrat College of Art's Main Street Gallery in Beverly, Mass. MoBA's trademarked motto is "Art too bad to be ignored." MoBA has published a 112-page book, The Museum of Bad Art ($14.95) and the Virtual Museum Of Bad Art CD-ROM ($19.95).
Bad art at The Metamorphic Vortex
The Metamorphic Vortex is quite strange, and worth a visit just to read Cosmon23's puzzling sci-fi rants. The thrift store art section has some paintings that shouldn't be missed. Particularly recommended are an expressionist crucifixion of a big-headed Jesus, a couple of indescribable surrealist landscapes and a touching portrait of a mother clown with her unhappy clown-child. Cosmon23 was wise enough to leave the works untitled and without editorial comments.
Huge Magazine's Thrift store art gallery
In contrast to the sense of ironic fun that animates most thrift-store sites, Huge Magazine's thrift store art gallery is earnest, captioning each work with notes regarding provenance and date. The site notes that Thin Wristed Lady, for instance, was purchased at the Rosebowl Flea Market in Pasadena, is signed "Maurimes," and though undated, was perhaps painted in the 1940s. Among the special features is a page of thrift-shop images that can be made into computer desktop wallpaper. Promised for the future: a special paint-by-numbers gallery.
Bad Art Gallery
Musician Lauren Wood shares her bad art collection with us, featuring the return of the pink poodle (having finished her business on the fire hydrant, doggie is now seen relaxing with Raggedy Ann and a smiling disembodied head of some sort). According to Lauren, "Bad Art is Art that costs 99¢ or less! Fine Art is Art that lights up." Okay. Wood likes fun icons made of images of 3-D plastic things like pink typewriters, green ladybug toys and other '50s, PeeWee Hermanesque junk. Check out her Portable TV with Portable Cat.
Weird, Strange & Just Plain Bad Art
In 1990 Bert Christensen closed his Christensen Television business in Toronto, which had been founded by his father in 1940, and embarked on the course that made him a house-husband and also gave us this site, "Weird, Strange & Just Plain Bad Art." His extensive collection of images is gathered from other Bad Art sites on the web, and includes the Museum of Bad Art's Lucy in the Field with Flowers and Jim Shaw's Pink Poodle and Hydrant with Text. My favorite is the mystically perplexing Druid Ghostbusters Versus the Checkerboard Spirits.