An exhausting review of a single piece of cardboard


Recently, Topps released a set of baseball cards reproduced by various artists with their creative interpretations of iconic pieces of cardboard that were cherished throughout the years. I was given the Mark McGwire “1987 rookie card” by a friend and it gave me pause and seemed to be a head-scratcher. My opinion was that it was in the tradition of outsider art, or underground contemporary, which usually has the look as if an 8 year old or someone with a mental deficiency had created it: which is sometimes the case. It can be seen as aesthetically “bad” to most people, but to be fair, in some cases has multiple and sometimes disturbing meanings below the surface. The current appreciation and fervor around “outsider art” seemingly stems from an exhaustion with slick commercialism of much of the mainstream contemporary art world: a sort of anti-capitalism rebelliousness that found an audience and became what it rebelled against in the first place. Read: these guys and gals found a niche and are cashing in on the artistic equivalent of a skateboard or an energy drink. It simply exists to reaffirm commerce.


The creator in question, Keith Shore, an artist with formal and academic training, gained a modicum of buzz in the art world for creating the labels on a Danish beer bottle. That is a fine medium and I’m sure it was appreciated by many college kids with nothing to do on a Saturday night with a head full of ganja and the attention span of a gnat, but I wasn’t sure if the baseball card was the right medium for Shore’s “amateurish” style as this attempt at re-creating the most iconic piece of cardboard of my childhood failed miserably. Mind you, all of the above can be endlessly discussed, debated, dissected and put through the wringer to the point of jumping off a bridge to end the conversation. Besides,the point of this essay wasn’t to undermine the validity or definition of the “outsider” term itself, (I don’t have the time or interest) it was to confirm just how uninteresting and uninspired I found the ersatz art work to be. Ironically enough, the baseball card itself, once a worthless object created to entice children to buy bubble gum, could be seen through certain eyes as a form of pop art with a dash of unapologetic crass commercialism sprinkled in.

What a hypocrite.

16 thoughts on “An exhausting review of a single piece of cardboard

  1. Martha Kennedy

    I read your Mark McGwire HOF post, too. It’s weird how Boomers (I am one) idolize players who were the age of their (our) parents. I think (speaking for myself) it’s partly the role model thing. I wanted to grow up to BE Willy Mays. I practiced constantly waiting for the day that some coach put me in. For a long time (five years?) I had no thought that 1) I was a girl, 2) Willy Mays was already Willy Mays. I just LOVED to watch him back when the Giants were in New York… I loved to watch him on Home Run Derby, hitting homers for $40/pop. Ultimately, it would seem that Boomers kept other Boomers out of the HOF. I don’t know because I haven’t thought about it (or cared) in like forever…

    This post is so good and so right on. This doesn’t strike me as a legit baseball card at all. I think a kid or mentally challenged person would draw something less derivative…

  2. Dean

    Another great read, it brought back memories of opening up those wax packs when I was so very young in the early 1960’s. I’ll never forget seeing that Don Mossi Card, it gave me nightmares, or how you so eloquently put it…”it gave me pause and seemed to be a head-scratcher. My opinion was that it was in the tradition of outsider art, or underground contemporary.” Thanks!

  3. mrobins71

    Nice read and nice to know someone else with some knowledge of the outsider movement isn’t wholly convinced. Robert Williams and Henry Darger are standouts on the more positive side of the movement, IMO. Is it much of a thing anymore? Juxtapoze was a cool mag when it started, then became all ads for stuff like Nike, which seemed like an omen for the movement as a whole.

    1. Gary Trujillo Post author

      I’m not sure if the “movement” is still a thing but when you start seeing skateboard art on a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a Nike ad etc. that pretty much designates the nail in the coffin as far as I’m concerned. It’s purely a gimmick to make entice people into “lifestyle choices.” Pretty sneaky.

  4. Jonathan Perry

    Hey Gary — Nice read! I’ve been following the 20/20 ongoing project and while I happen to dislike this artist’s rendition of the cards he’s been interpreting (nothing personal against the guy), some of the work by the other cutting-edge graphic designers and artists on this novel project are exciting to me, and intriguing, with a few artists whose work I’ve been buying. Not sure I’d call what most of these artists do as “outsider art” although my definition could differ from yours. Most of the bios I’ve read on the card backs describe them as straight-up modern/pop commercial artists and “cutting-edge” designers with a slew of corporate clients, from clothes to footwear to cars; some have roots in the DJ/hip hop word and have a tattoo-graffitti street art background. If you haven’t done so, you might be interested to check out the archive gallery of the range of artists working. A few stand out to me, and of course, everyone will have their own taste when it comes to what strikes them. I tdo hink it’s a cool idea and a novel take on iconic history (sure, it’s probably gonna make money) and, while pricey for a card, it appeals to an amateur collector like me who appreciates the limited edition vibe (they’re only avaliable for 48 hours and the printed run is whomever purchases the card, and that’s it). I balked at first about spending $20 on a thick card stock, protective plastic encased Clemente and Koufaz ($34.99 if you buy both players being offered in the 48-hour window). But then I thought about what I spend on takeout … or beer. While these are yet more cards saturating the market, perhaps, what I like as a guy who collected during the ’70s and ’80s is that it’s an antidote (to me) of the glut of boring cards, subsets, chase cards etc. that really made collecting an overwhelming, nonsensical swamp. So I like the idea of a limited series. I jumped on board the “Living Set” idea too, and tend to pick up favorite players like Aaron, Clemente, Banks, Yaz, Fingers etc…nobody current, though. Just not interested in cards of over-hyped 25-year-old gazillionaires or over-hyped guys. Thanks for the morning read, Gary. Got my mind percolating.

    1. Gary Trujillo Post author

      Thanks for the well thought out comment Jonathan. I wasn’t sure of the “outsider” tag myself, but all the definitions in the art world are fervently contested and intermingled so I figure it didn’t matter in the end. Personally I only collect autographed Oakland A’s cards (I prefer 50’s 60’s 70’s) but everyone has their own tastes and baseball is pretty cool so It’s all gravy in the end. Personally I’d rather spend that money on beer though. 🙂 Stop by again sometime.

  5. rdfranciswriter

    Great memories of a simpler time: playing Little League and my laser focus of completing that Topps set, which I did . . . all 740 some odd cards.

      1. rdfranciswriter

        Yeah, back in the ’50s and ’60s, as with comics, and into the ’70s, not everyone had “collecting” fever. But in the ’80s, everyone had the fever, collecting; so there’s a lot of product out there.

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