BOOK OF THE MONTH (4): boring auction catalogue or intriguing love story?

Strictly speaking, it’s not an art book. But it’s certainly one that comes in the disguise of an art book. It might even be mistaken for one. For an auction catalogue, to be precise. Important artifacts and personal property from the collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, including books, street fashion and jewelry is filled with pictures of objects, books, clothes and photographs, ready to be auctioned, each one with an estimated value attached to it. But on close inspection, you realise that there’s something entirely else going on. These objects tell the story of a relationship. It’s not a catalogue, but a novel. I’m completely in awe of this incredibly clever work of art.

One of the first lots (1003) is an invitation to a Halloween Party, on October 31, 2002. That’s where it all started. That’s where Lenore Doolan (26), writing as a food columnist for The New York Times, and photographer Harold Morris (39) met. Lot 1005 is a picture of both of them at that Halloween Party. From there on the story develops. You get notes and postcards they sent to each other; books, compilation cd’s, clothes, things they packed when they went away together. By reading the description of these more than 300 lots you piece the story together, you notice things going wrong. You realise they’re having fights. One of them is seeing a shrink. They start doubting the relationship. Ex-boyfriends are mentioned. But I won’t spoil your fun. Do go and figure it all out yourself.

It’s quite unbelievable how Shapton has constructed this book. You wonder how she pulled it all off: thinking of all these objects to take pictures of (a note from a hotel in Buenos Aires), getting friends to pose for the right pictures. And she undoubtedly has an impeccable sense of style: clothes of Dries Van Noten and Helmut Lang are mentioned, as are books of Duane Michals en Cindy Sherman, music by The Fall, Mazzy Star and Caetano Veloso. The only strange thing, to me, is that there aren’t any really good pictures among all those lots, whereas one of the lead characters is actually a photographer, travelling the world.

By now Shapton  has already given up her job as an art director for The New York Times to work on a new book.  Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman have already said they want to try and turn this story into a movie. Finishing Important artifacts left me with the question that will pop up in your head too, if you pick up this mesmerizing book: what would the collection of objects look like that would tell my story?

You’ll find more on Leanne Shapton on her site, here. You’ll find more on the book on the site of Bloomsbury Publishing here. You’ll find a short YouTube video with Shapton discussing the book here.

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