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From Junk to Genius: 5 Found Art Meccas You Can Visit on Obscura Day


Austin’s Cathedral of Junk (Photo: alamosbasement on Flickr)

Who needs hoighty-toighty museums and snotty art dealers to tell a creator what is beautiful? All across America artists have put aside all fears to make pieces of art that are overtly unique to them. One of the favorite mediums for these artists is so-called junk, everyday objects that have seemingly outlived their usefulness, becoming as-they-say, one man’s trash. This May 30th, as part of Obscura Day, our worldwide celebration of the world’s wonders, we are hosting events at five of the most incredible found art displays in the U.S. Call it “naive art,” “outsider art,” or even “junk,” just don’t call it uninspired.


1. NOAH PURIFOY’S OUTDOOR DESERT ART MUSEUM
Joshua Tree, California


Who says independent artists are off the rails?  (Photo: Christopher Michel on Flickr)

A wide majority of naive art displays and make-shift galleries are the idiosyncratic work of a single creator, and Noah Purifoy’s desert collection is no different. Set on over seven acres of arid land, Purifoy’s creations tend toward the more grandiose, with the sculptures taking the form of almost architectural workings. Using everything from old tires and burnt scraps of wood to dead computers and cast-off hamburger wrappers, the collection of pieces large and small have been growing since the first one was assembled in 1989. Today the installations are still kept up by the Noah Purifoy Foundation, although the natural climate continues to slightly alter the works, bringing them closer to their natural surrounds with each year.       


Dream fortress. (Photo: Jack McGee on Flickr)


Egyptian obelisks, eat your heart out. (Photo: Channone Arif on Flickr)


2. HOUSE OF BALLS
Minneapolis, Minnesota


A king in his kingdom. (Photo property of House of Balls)

While there aren’t an abundance of spheres in Minneapolis sculptor Allen Christian’s homegrown gallery, it has no shortage of balls. Started almost 30 years ago under Christian’s stated mission statement that, “we all possess the creative impulse and we owe ourselves the balls to express it.” Thus the House of Balls was born. With pipes and typewriter parts and old teeth anything else Christian feels that he can breath some life into. In addition to the eclectic sculptures and static works, there are also all manner of janky automaton that will come to life at the push of a button. It takes more than talent and drive to create strange works like thos of Allen Christian, it takes balls.


It could be said that this piece of art is relaxing. (Photo: Allen Christian on Atlas Obscura)


Even the truck has balls. (Photo: Alan Turkus on Flickr)


3. THE MUSEUM OF WONDER
Seale, Alabama


Inventory at the museum is a bit of a nightmare. (Photo property of The Museum of Wonder)

Alabama artist Butch Anthony’s Museum of Wonder is closer to a museum of artifacts than an art gallery, it nonetheless finds the beauty hidden in what some might consider trash. With mounted bones, sticks, and rusting bits of hardware, Anthony’s cabin-bound collection celebrates the singular wonder that can be found in the discarded and forgotten bits. In addition to highlighting a cornucopia of found items, Anthony displays his signature artistic style which often sees him tracing impressionistic bones over paintings and portraits. Whether its found or made, the items in the Museum of Wonder rarely fail to inspire just that.   


Dem bones. (Photo property of The Museum of Wonder)


4. CATHEDRAL OF JUNK
Austin, Texas


Ah, Trash Vegas, where everyone bets on junk and everyone wins. (Photo by Jennifer Morrow on Wikipedia)

Kneel and pray before the homemade church of trash! Built in the backyard of Austin, Texas artist Vince Hannemann, the Cathedral of Junk is an ever-evolving holy site devoted to the lost and found. Believed to now contain around 60 tons of junk, the shaggy structure began life in 1989 as Hannemann began collecting various pieces of junk that he would then add to the ever growing pile in his backyard. Soon the cacophonous tower began to take shape, and has continued to grow and evolve ever since. While it looks as though it is held together, possibly literally with spit and bailing wire, the structure had has actually been tested by city engineers who have deemed it safe enough to remain. It is occasionally available for event rentals as well, with some couples even choosing it as the site for their wedding.   


The (sort of) iron throne. (Photo by Aleksandr Zykov on Flickr)


A tower reaching towards heaven. (Photo by That Other Paper on Flickr)


5. PORTER SCULPTURE PARK
Montrose, South Dakota


Puff the Kind-of-Terrifying Scrap Dragon (Photo: Dave Ginsberg on Flickr)

Many found art and sculpture parks and gardens seem to revel in a cute whimsy, Montrose, South Dakota’s Porter Sculpture Park is not afraid to embrace its darker aspects. Created by farmer-turned-sculptor Wayne Porter, the collection is comprised of creatures and figures welded together out of old scrap metal and farm equipment. While there are some animals and bugs that would seem almost cuddly if they weren’t crafted out of sharp steel, there are also a large number of more disturbing pieces like the massive bull’s head that is flanked by skeletal minotaur guardians, and a sinister jack-in-the-box that appears to be crying blood. Many of these creatures can be seen from the nearby highway, looking to the unfamiliar like some, possibly malevolent, fairy field.       


Just another peaceful sculpture garden from hell. (Photo: Robin Davies on Flickr)


Monkey business. (Photo: Eli Duke on Flickr)