Bad As They Wanna Be

I got a call from Alisha Brophy, who told me about an art show party she was having. When she said it was for "bad art," I was really intrigued. She and her friends were collecting bad pieces of art. To attend the party, you were supposed to bring something bad. They would invite people to a gallery a few weeks later and auction the pieces off. My first thought was that bad art probably wouldn't sell. Alisha explained, "We are doing this to raise money for the tsunami victims. We're giving it to UNICEF. So we're hoping people look at it as donations for them, and bid on art they like or want for whatever reason."

I remembered having seen a guy outside Balboa Park who sold airplanes made out of aluminum cans. They actually looked cool, but I figured a biplane made from Budweiser cans would be perfect for the "bad art" party. Of course, the Saturday I went to find him, he wasn't around. I was told he was only there every other weekend. So I went to Spanish Village in Balboa Park, where there are a variety of art shops. I found an ugly green frog with purple eyes. It was made of glass and held pens in the back and business cards in the front. It was $25, so I bought it. As I was paying for it, I told the woman at the register it was for a bad art show. I didn't want her thinking this thing was for me. She laughed and said, "Most of the pieces in this shop I made. I'm glad that's not one of them, or I would've been insulted."

I talked with another interesting artist in Spanish Village. Her shop sells baskets that she makes. We came up with what would surely be the hit of the party. It was a grapefruit around which she wrapped a chain and padlock. She put it on a little stand and titled it "Grapefruit in Bondage." As I walked through Balboa Park carrying my pieces of "art," one woman stopped me and asked, "Has your grapefruit been naughty?"

That night, when I arrived at the party, Alisha was stoked about the frog. It quickly got a $25 bid. She thought the grapefruit was stupid. I tried explaining, "This is bad art, isn't it?" Of course, it started to occur to me that not only was it bad art, but it was bad art that would only last a few weeks until the grapefruit went bad.

When I walked into the gallery, they had TV sets by the door showing weird videos with swirling colors. One guy brought in a VCR and was showing really bad movies as his contribution to bad art. I had originally thought about doing a giant poster with bad song lyrics painted on it. But when I thought of songs like "The Name Game," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," and the America song "Ventura Highway" (where they sing about alligator lizards in the air), or their song "Horse with No Name" in which they sing "rocks and birds and snakes and things" and "the heat was hot." But I figured young people wouldn't even know these songs.

I saw a disco ball hanging from the ceiling. It had rusted bedsprings all around it.

Of course, someone had brought the painting of dogs playing poker. Alisha told me, "Someone said that the original painting of this sold for three million dollars at Sotheby's." They could've gotten this replica cheaper. The bid was up to $45.

There was a teddy bear that had a $25 bid. An ugly unicorn picture, with lots of colors around it, didn't get any bids.

There was no Elvis on velvet, but several paintings of Jesus on velvet. The strangest one was Jesus above an 18-wheel truck. Many at the party voted that the worst painting there.

And someone made sunflowers out of yarn.

There was a hysterical painting of a lazy dog on a couch with food all around him. It looked like something cartoonist Gary Larson would draw. Someone walked by and said, "Look at the picture on the wall." In it a dog had a picture on the wall of another dog's tail and butt. We all cracked up.

I heard one couple looking at a piece of art. The girl said, "This piece should be burned. It's horrible." The guy replied, "That might enhance it."

Alisha came over and said, "Did you see the clown paintings?" She showed me one of an evil-looking clown. Another had clowns in a carriage. She said, "You can't have a bad art show without some clown paintings."

Alisha moved here after attending school in Berkeley. When I told her about my idea for the bad song lyrics, I mentioned William Hung, the Asian guy who was made fun of on American Idol after singing "She Bangs" by Ricky Martin. He ended up becoming famous for being so bad. Alisha said, "I went to school with him. He worked in the cafeteria and we used to think he was slow. There was a friend of mine he had a crush on. When there was a talent show, he sang a song. It wasn't Ricky Martin though. Some people laughed, but I think they felt bad for him. He got all this applause, and we couldn't believe when we saw him in that American Idol."

Alisha then told me about a reality show she was recently involved in. It was called How I Look and they gave her a complete makeover, including a new wardrobe.

I went to get a glass of wine and saw a woman had stacked up eight of the corks. I said, "We should glue these together. We can add it to this bad art." She laughed and then rearranged them in a more interesting pattern.

As I was walking away with my wine, a woman came up and said, "Hi, Josh. Do you remember me?" I didn't. She said, "I am in that band the Ho Bags. You did a story on us." Luckily I remembered she was the bass player. Her boyfriend (who looked like Robert Plant) and I talked about music for a while.

One painting I liked was a real flower on a painting of a present. It looked like a Jackson Pollock. Alisha told me her friend Nichole MacDonald had created it. When Nichole showed up, we talked a little about art. She had a lot of interesting stories about a variety of topics. But I'd had a migraine that morning, and my medication had me in a funk. I wasn't taking notes. I just hoped I'd remember stuff as I sat down to write this. Unfortunately, I can't remember a thing she told me.

Looking at her painting reminded me of a recent story where a woman bought a Jackson Pollock painting at a thrift store for $5. It didn't fit in the trailer she lived in, so she left it outside. Someone saw it and thought it might be a Pollock. It was. She then sold it for millions. Her neighbor was mad, since it was given to her as a gift. She didn't like the painting and had returned it to her friend. The moral: Never look a gift horse in the mouth. And never give a bad painting back without first going onto eBay.

I suggested that if we wrote some famous artists' names in the corners of some of this bad art, it would quickly be considered good art. I've said for years that abstract art was just a big sham.

One of the guys who helped get this event going was Jamie Bacher. He and Alisha hit many garage sales in order to get some of the paintings. I heard Jamie telling one guy, "I love fish. But not in art. Fish in an aquarium are nice. Fish on my plate at dinner. But I don't like fish in art." The painting he was looking at was bad. I also found out that this art show was originally going to be at Jamie's place, but they didn't think they'd have enough room. So they had it at the Actors Alliance on Adams Avenue. They were charged $15 an hour.

There was a donkey picture that said "5 pesos an ass." I also saw a poster of a bullfighter getting struck by a horn that was an advertisement for a hotel chain. They actually bought that from the hotel for $5.

There were two pairs of jeans with paint all over them. Someone told me, "Those were my friend's. He actually wore those to work, and that's how they got that way."

As I was looking at the jeans two guys passed me. One said, "I might buy those if I knew the size. I want to make sure they'd fit." His friend said, "Did you see that painting of Jesus blessing the semi? Maybe the trucker was on a mission from God."

I saw a few plastic masks on the wall. I asked Alisha about them. She said, "They were at the 99 cent store, but I talked them down to 50 cents."

I went outside to smoke a cigar and was talking about movies with some guys. One of them had just gotten back from England, where he saw Christian Slater in a stage production of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. The next day, I read in the paper that Slater's bodyguard was stabbed by a crazy fan after one of the performances.

A few people were going to the Ould Sod down the street for a beer. We were drinking wine (and I kept wondering if the cops driving by would do anything), but we decided to also head over to the Sod. I felt bad for Jamie and Alisha and everyone else who had to take everything down and clean up the place.

A lady named Sara who I met at the party told me she was the karaoke queen of Texas. She actually won that title in a competition. I asked what was the prize and was told, "A $75 bar tab." I got to hear her sing "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" before going home.

I went to the gallery for the actual bad art show weeks later. It was in North Park at the Acoustic Expressions store on University. It's a music store with a big warehouse area. They donated the space.

Alisha said, "Let me show you a few of the new pieces we got." One was a naked woman eating an apple painted onto a mirror. Alisha laughed and said, "You missed our live auction. We had a broken Slinky that didn't have any bids. Once we started the live auction, there was a small bidding war. It started at a dollar, and two people were going back and forth. It ended up selling for $10."

Later I saw the girl walking around with this tangled mess. I said, "What are you going to do with it? Are you going to try to fix it? Are you going to display it somewhere?" She just laughed.

Alisha spotted an ugly jug and decided that since it didn't have any bids, she'd do a live auction. It was a yellowish color, with pearls around it. Alisha said, "Who knows? These could be real pearls. And the person at the thrift store who sold it to me told me it was on the set of That '70s Show. It was an episode that never ran." Everyone laughed. A woman bought it for $19. Alisha said, "Maybe I should take the price tag off it so you don't know how bad you got screwed."

I was told they had gone to garage sales that morning to look for Christmas lights to hang up. They ended up finding boxes of lights for $6. They also found a homemade lamp composed of different pieces of bent-up metal. Colin, one of the guys I talked movies with at the last party, told me, "It was embarrassing, because the woman who made this lamp was selling it to us. We didn't want to tell her it was for a bad art show."

I saw my Grapefruit in Bondage sitting without a grapefruit. Jamie had sent me an e-mail saying the grapefruit needed to be replaced and I asked him to pick one up before the show. He thought I would bring one. I have to say the piece isn't as powerful with just a chain and lock.

I found out that Colin was the original owner of the painting of Jesus and the 18-wheeler. It was in his bathroom, but he thought it was so bad he wanted to display it. Alisha and Jamie then decided to create this event. But by the end of the night, after a few too many beers, Colin decided he didn't want to part with it. He outbid the highest bidder and got it back for $50.

And UNICEF ended up with over $600.

Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.

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