Q: Why did you create the MOF?
A: I was inspired when the Internet came along because it offered an opportunity to create an online museum where I could share my collection of amateur art with the world. I aspire to increase the boundaries of the art world because making art is too important to be left only to art professionals. As custodian of this collection I feel compelled to educate others as to its importance and I hope that my efforts will lead to its preservation as a part of our cultural heritage. The paintings here are trying to tell a story and I'm trying to facilitate that.
Q: Where did you get the paintings?
A: From thrift stores in and around the Los Angeles area. The previous owners of the paintings felt they were not worth keeping so they donated them to thrift stores where I purchased them.
Q: How did you get started collecting thrift store paintings?
A: Initially poverty drove me to thrift stores where I bought necessities like clothing. In my college years I developed an interest in art which led me to the thrift store's painting bins. The collection grew from there.
Q: What's a thrift store?
A: A thrift store (a.k.a. charity shop or opportunity shop) is a retail social enterprise that sells donated second-hand goods to raise funds for a charitable organization.
Q: Do you own all the paintings on the website?
A: Unfortunately, yes. There are hundreds now in various storage areas.
Q: Are the paintings for sale?
A: No.
Q: Is there a physical MOF that I can visit?
A: Yes, there's a physical MOF. No, you can't visit it because it's in my living room. I've been surprised by the number of tour operators interested in MOF. Maybe someday the collection will be housed in a public building but until then no tours allowed. Sorry.
Q: How did you come up with the name Museum of Fred?
A: I wanted to parody the grand tradition of museum founders naming museums after themselves so I envisioned MOF as a parody vanity museum. I also wanted the name to reflect the museum's accessibility. I initially considered the name "Fred's Museum." That didn't look right so I opted for the "Museum of Fred."
Q: Why are you interested in amateur art?
A: I like that it celebrates individuality. I like that amateur art tends to be created outside normal artistic cultural conventions. I find that mass consumerism is a homogenizing force where individuality and self-expression are lost. Mass consumerism only values humans as consumers not as creators.
Q: Why did you call it a museum as opposed to a gallery?
A: I called it a museum to challenge ideas about how the museum is defined. The word "museum" originally meant a place dedicated to muses. It was a place of inspiration. A place dedicated to our human creative potential. Since then museums have become institutions dedicated to defining and preserving cultural values. As such, those with power tend to set the agendas for museums.
Q: Do you have issues with the art establishment?
A: No, my formal art education instilled in me a deep appreciation for what the mainstream art establishment is trying to accomplish. Some of these values are reflected in the design of the MOF website. I used art world conventions such as creating galleries with "white walls" and creating a context for the art. I do, however, have my criticisms of the art establishment. I don't like the elitism and cultural biases that I see in some museums. For example, women and minorities are seemingly underrepresented. I think museums can be agents for effective social change since they have the power to validate art and ideas.
Q: How do you feel about your critics like the museologist in the NPR story?
A: It's to be expected but I'm still suspicious of anyone that tries to intimidate me. Museums have traditionally been the domain of the elite and I expect the establishment to resist change. The advent of the Internet has created wonderful opportunities to challenge the traditional museum model. I'm not sure what benefit there is in attacking my legitimacy.
Q: Are you planning to publish a book of your paintings? A: I have no plans at this time. Publishers have approached me but none have followed through with any offers. If you're looking for a thrift store painting book, I recommend Jim Shaw's "Thrift Store Paintings."
Q: Do you only collect paintings represented by the categories on your site?
A: No, those were largely arbitrary or I should say subjective. I wanted a way to curate the site in an orderly way as I find it overwhelming to look at a bunch of random paintings. Curation by subject matter was my attempt to create some context for the paintings.
Q: Do you collect anything other than paintings?
A: Unfortunately, yes. I own a large collection of amateur photography, mostly slides and home movies. I hope to put these online in the future. As of late, I have dramatically curtailed my collecting due to a lack of storage and funds. I had a collection of Hollywood-related photographs that I donated to the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Library. Also, I donated a collection of Native American artifacts to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Q: Why doesn't amateur art get more scholarly attention?
A: I think because it defies categorization. It seems scholars like to put things in tidy little boxes so we have a context in which to discuss ideas. The diversity of amateur art makes classification difficult so it's left out of art criticism, theory and discourse.
Q: How does MOF relate to your art practice?
A: I think of MOF as an art project. I refer to it as "museum as art." Ever since Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal into the 1917 New York Society of Independent Artists Exhibition artists have had tremendous liberty in defining art.
Q: Why don't you use the term "outsider art"?
A: Because that implies there is "insider art." What is insider art? The boundaries of the art world are constantly shifting. The Impressionists were rejected by the art establishment. Vincent van Gogh couldn't sell any of his paintings yet today they are worth millions and hang in prestigious museums around the world. Is his work Outsider Art or Insider Art? Though I have a formal art education I've never been interested in hierarchies or formalities.
Q: How is the Internet affecting museums?
A: The advent of the Internet has created wonderful opportunities to challenge the traditional museum model. The definition of "museum" is being questioned like never before because of all the online museums we have today. The Internet allows for greater diversity in the images and stories we are able to share and preserve. Of course, technology has played a pivotal role in art movements throughout art history. Collapsible metal paint tubes and lead pencils were technological breakthroughs when they were invented. The invention of photography liberated painting from its documentary role.
Q: Can I get permission to reproduce one of your images?
A: I don't know. U.S. copyright law gets very complicated in this situation. I own the copyright of the images on the website because I took the photographs; however, someone else might own the copyright of the underlying work. I recommend consulting a qualified attorney that is familiar with current intellectual property laws before using any of the images. Most of the paintings have no signature or identifying marks, which makes it virtually impossible to find the copyright holder. In cases where a copyright owner cannot be located after a diligent search it is considered an "orphan work." Apparently, there is legislation pending in Congress that would allow some good-faith uses of potentially copyrighted content. http://www.copyright.gov/orphan
Q: Do you feel MOF is accomplishing its goals?
A: Yes, my expectations have been exceeded. I've been surprised and humbled by all the attention MOF has garnered from around the world. I've seen articles on MOF that I can't even read because they are in such languages as Vietnamese and Portuguese. In addition, MOF has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and CBC's Freestyle radio programs. The Yahoo! Directory has even added a "Thrift Store Art Collections" category since the founding of MOF.
Q: What's your favorite painting?
A: I can't choose just one. I like paintings that ask questions and show evidence of artistic and/or emotional struggle. I love paintings that make me ask myself "Why would anyone paint this?" I appreciate boldness, risk-taking, curiosity and inventiveness.
Q: Do you accept donations?
A: Thanks but no. I don't have an "acquisitions department" to sift through paintings to see if they are appropriate for MOF. Also, I now have some serious storage limitations.
Q: Do you have anything free you can donate to my child's class?
A: Nope, sorry. I commend parents for taking a proactive role in their children's education but, alas, I have nothing to donate. Check with the bigger museums as they typically have well-funded educational outreach programs.
Q: Is there anything you'd like to add?
A: Thanks to all the artists that have made MOF possible. I'm also grateful for all the journalists, bloggers and fans that have supported MOF over the years.