Turning trash into visionary art

Slide show: From garbage houses to New York's tower of trash, the mind-boggling things people make with junk

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“Some people say this is sculpture but I didn’t go to no expensive school to get these crazy notions,” observes John Milkovisch, a retired upholsterer for a railroad who saved and collected over 50,000 aluminum receptacles to create his shiny Houston masterpiece, the “Beer Can House.” Creative reuse of scavenged materials is nothing new — in fact it seems to be a human instinct that, for some, can border on obsession. While there are trained artists — perhaps inspired by Gaudí’s early 20th-century mosaics or Marcel Duchamp’s readymades — who sculpt and construct large-scale artworks made from repurposed cast offs, many more are dreamers with ordinary day jobs who abhor waste, have a penchant for collecting, and are seized by an unstoppable urge to create something beautiful from the flotsam and jetsam modern life.



Some, like the beer can guy, hold onto their own trash until it reaches a critical mass of building material. Others seek out and collect bits and pieces that catch their eye on their daily meanderings (mailmen and those in the construction industry seem particularly susceptible). Unlike the hoarders portrayed on A&E, these visionary artists transform their stash into something much greater than the sum of its parts (though it makes you wonder if many of the compulsive hoarders are similar creatively motivated folks with grandiose, unrealized plans for their treasured cache of objects).

America is littered (in a good way) with art yards, trash houses, and found-object sculptures. A sense of whimsy and ingenuity pervades these 13 places, among them a sound sculpture made from demolished cemetery marble, a 10-story children’s wonderland built from salvaged industrial waste, houses made of wine bottles, a desert mountain of discarded tires …

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