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Junque in the Houston Heights

Two artists purge their crap, just in time for holiday shopping

We are in the living/dining room of Museum of the Weird, a 1939 bungalow on 24th Street in the Heights. On the table in front of us is an array of artfully lumpy ceramics made by children or perhaps adults with an eight-year-old's level of manual dexterity. They are all for sale. So is the giant, red, anatomically correct heart that rests in the open rafters above us, and the enormous papier-mâché wasp nest by artist Celia Eberle, complete with enormous wasp.

Everybody has crap in their house, but two Houston artists, Dolan Smith and Bill Davenport, are crap connoisseurs. Inveterate garage salers, thrift store habitués, Dumpster divers — and card-carrying MFAs — these guys have made an art out of artfully chosen junk. Now that junk, at least the stuff they're willing to part with, is available to you. Smith is selling the Museum of the Weird and getting rid of most of its contents, while Bill Davenport has just opened up Bill's (mostly handmade) Junk Store.

"I've got some good crap," acknowledges Museum of the Weird director Smith, "but the ones with blue tape on them, I'm keeping." That includes a 1950s portrait of a woman that Smith enhanced with a clown smile and bigger hair. For sale, however, is a giant cardboard replica of a 40-ounce malt liquor bottle Smith crafted. It has armholes, and it was his costume for his 40th birthday party, where, he says, "I got so drunk I fell over and I was like a giant turtle flopped on its back."

The weird stuff at the Museum of the Weird is for sale.
Courtesy of Dolan Smith
The weird stuff at the Museum of the Weird is for sale.

Details

The last day of the Museum of the Weird is Decem­ber 13. The art space Skydive is hosting a final party and Dumpster Dive at the Museum of the Weird. (There won't be an actual Dumpster because Smith says they are astronomically expensive to rent since Hurricane Ike.)2 to 8 p.m. Saturday, De­cem­ber 13. 834 24th St.

Smallish pieces: $5

Largish pieces: $10

Everything must go!

Bill's (mostly handmade) Junk Store is open noon to5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 1125 E. 11th Street.

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In the kitchen, an open shelf is carefully stacked with brightly colored and neatly arranged canned goods. Smith has titled it the Shelf of Delicious Advertisements, and it includes cans of things like pink salmon and artichoke hearts, all with kitschy, funky labels. According to Smith, the piece is 14 years old, and cans explode from time to time. It's yours if you are foolhardy enough to want it.

Also in the kitchen is the Fantasy Fridge, an elderly side-by-side refrigerator covered with images of nekkid women. On top of the Fantasy Fridge rests a bright-orange box of Wheaties that's been altered — underneath the phrase "Breakfast of Champions" is a photograph of a guy with five-day stubble, smoking a cigarette. A friend of Smith's who "isn't even an artist" made it 17 years ago. (It's gone now; I bought it for five bucks.) Other shelves in the kitchen hold things like freakish wig heads, a mummified rat in a jar and a medical model of a child.

Smith has been working on the house for almost 15 years. He's selling it now because he and his wife just bought a lovely (normal) home in the Heights. Smith was fortunate enough to sell his house to art car enthusiasts from Galveston who appreciate the property's singularly weird sensibility. (The entrance to the driveway is flanked by two giant horns liberated from some billboard by a friend of the artist. They're for sale as well, but the new owners said they wouldn't mind keeping them.)

The backyard feels like a compound left behind by some crackpot extinct culture possessing elaborate and wacky rituals. There is the Scar Room, for example. Smith, alias Scar Man, has been to the emergency room more times than probably anyone still alive. His ongoing art project is a collection of his own physical and psychic scars written on chunks of wood. He created the enclosed gazebo/scar room where visitors could write down their own scars on scrap wood and add them to the space. The "scars" are for sale as well.

A pet columbarium was added to the site in 2003, and inaugurated with a massive Halloween party. The Museum of the Weird parties were legendary — you always knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the police would show up before the night was over. They did, and so did the fire department. As a part of the columbarium's christening, stuffed animals were going to be attached to helium balloons to ascend to heaven. Then some guy wearing nothing but a stuffed-animal as a G-string decided they needed to be soaked in flammable liquid first and ignited as they were released. It was a spectacular sight — until some of them got stuck in the neighbor's trees and others fell down on people's cars. I think the guy in the stuffed-animal­ G-string wound up at county in that ­outfit.

It's dark as we are touring the compound, but Smith has donned a miner's headlamp to light the way. We check out the columbarium, and Smith points out the jagged glass he added to the fence to keep nearby heroin addicts out. Pet ashes are sealed into concrete niches in the wall. Statuary decorates the area, just like any memorial park. There is a Venus with a duck head grafted on, and "the black angel of death," a saint holding a child with their heads switched. Smith reads out pet names to me, "Sassy" and "Mr. Winkle." In the center of the space is a big metal cylinder, possibly an old water heater. It has a propane attachment and a door on it. "Is this where you cremate pets?" I ask.

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