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Alexandra Lange

Love Among the Figurines


I finally got my hands on Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry. Sunday, 14 February 2009, New York, by Leanne Shapton, and as will no doubt not surprise you, I loved it. It is a story through stuff, and if there is one thing reading and writing and researching design has taught me, it is that I am my stuff (and you are too). Maybe the book even inspired Significant Objects? Parenthetically, I am a little shocked by how few books I have reviewed on this blog, which reveals how few books I have read over the past months. I have read some books, but many of them were my long digression into my adolescent library (Pern, Betsy, et. al.), and the few others I hated. I hated Netherland so much I barely got through it, but I am embarrassed to admit my hatred. I just didn’t believe a word of it, didn’t like any of the characters, and was bored with Mr. No Affect Dutchman’s ennui. And this in a book that includes several visits to Floyd Bennett Field!

Important Artifacts, on the other hand, I loved so much I read it in two nights, while hosting my father, writing about the Bauhaus and Thom Mayne, and keeping up with Project Runway. The book is the story of a relationship told as an auction catalog, gifts, clothes, postcards, email, fake New York Times columns (there should be one called “Cakewalk”, I would bake everything), snapshots, salt-and-peppers all photographed and divided into lots. She is a little nutty, and a little needy. He is elusive, alcoholic(?) and narcissistic. That’s my interpretation. Since the entire narrative is between the lines, other readers may have a different sense of how things turn out. It is a tribute to the effectiveness of this technique that I could not help but evaluate Lenore and Hal as people, my contemporaries in media New York, and to judge the book by how I would feel about them if I knew them.

First, I could tell they were rather fancier than I am. His toiletry kit held rather more products than I like in a man’s, and he owned designer t-shirts. She had vintage bathing suits and Cosabella bras. Second, they were clearly trying too hard, right from the start, with their just-apposite postcard selections, and melanges of gifts expensive, kitschy, antique. The kind of gifts you give because you are trying to decorate the other person to match your ideal. I think I would have liked her if we had been old friends. She might even have written about one of my grandmother’s recipes. Had I just met her I would have been jealous, Why didn’t I think of that? (I never do.) He I never would have liked, clearly a dandy, a person who elevates their importance by always seeming busier-than-thou. Too old to never have had a serious girlfriend before. Too old to be dating a 27-year-old, however accomplished. The person who came off best is Anny, Lenore’s lovely sister, in just a few notes.

All my prejudices obviously came out as I filled in the blanks between those poodle figurines on the cover. When Lenore has to protest No! (she does like them) you know it is all over. A shared sense of what is adorable, and what is just tacky, is one of the most important signs of true love.



Posted in: Books

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Alexandra Lange Alexandra Lange is an architecture and design critic, and author of Writing about Architecture: Mastering the Language of Buildings and Cities. (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). Her work has appeared in The Architect’s Newspaper, Architectural Record, Dwell, Metropolis, Print, New York Magazine and The New York Times.

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