Interesting Ideas
The Anonymous Portrait Gallery
Armgirl 1Armgirl 2Armgirl 3

Anonymous art is wonderfully simple. What's there is what the artist put into it, no more or less. Intentions and creative contexts, ethnicity, mental diagnosis, educational background, the artist's art-historical role -- all are ciphers. In place of biography there is mystery, and the creative process speaks for itself to viewers who are as anonymous to the artist as the artist is to them.

There is a purity to this, but also a crap shoot. The artist does not know (and intentionally or by misdirection does not care) where and how the art will be viewed. At flea markets, thrift stores, yard sales and junk shops, the audience, and the art, are left to their own devices.

That is not to say there is no context. The flea market creates its own environment, imparting a meaning to everything found there. The artifacts of creative effort, along with the old tools, scratchy LPs, broken furniture and collectible jelly jars share in a kind of negation: The lowest-common-denominator quality that unites all the junkscape's objects into an ashes-to-ashes, all-is-vanity message -- except in that magical moment when the right collector spots the right object.

Besides favorable pricing, this ego-boosting moment is part of the appeal of anonymous art. Only the finely tuned collector's eye can decode the message of secret value hidden amidst the flea-market's detritus, where the devices that galleries, museums, critics and artists use to explain and value art are utterly absent. (Also absent is accountability. There is no artist with feelings to be hurt, no one whose interests the ethical collector or dealer must take account of, nobody, other than a casual seller, to get between you and the art.)

The works here are all anonymous in their creator and, in most cases, their subject. A few came with dealer accounts, possibly apocryphal, about their creators. I suppose a dedicated sleuth might be able to determine whether the painter of the woman who looks vaguely like Dinah Shore really was a cousin of the singer living in Nashville. But the effort seems pointless. The art speaks for itself.

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