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Important Artifacts And Personal Property From Collection [Paperback]

Leanne Shapton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Feb. 9 2009
Auction catalogs can tell you a lot about a person—their passions and vanities, peccadilloes and aesthetics; their flush years and lean. Think of the collections of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Truman Capote, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

In Leanne Shapton’s marvelously inventive and invented auction catalog, the 325 lots up for auction are what remain from the relationship between Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris (who aren’t real people, but might as well be). Through photographs of the couple’s personal effects—the usual auction items (jewelry, fine art, and rare furniture) and the seemingly worthless (pajamas, Post-it notes, worn paperbacks)—the story of a failed love affair vividly (and cleverly) emerges. From first meeting to final separation, the progress and rituals of intimacy are revealed through the couple’s accumulated relics and memorabilia. And a love story, in all its tenderness and struggle, emerges from the evidence that has been left behind, laid out for us to appraise and appreciate.

In an earlier work, Was She Pretty?, Shapton, a talented artist and illustrator, subtly explored the seemingly simple yet powerfully complicated nature of sexual jealousy. In Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris—a very different yet equally original book—she invites us to contemplate what is truly valuable, and to consider the art we make of our private lives.

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Important Artifacts And Personal Property From Collection + Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships + All About Love
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Amazon Best of the Month, February 2009: What is love? Artist Leanne Shapton may be the first person to answer this age-old question so persuasively, if not damn-near definitively. Her vision of love--that famously immaterial virtue--finds its best expression in the stuff of our daily lives. Which, of course, may not be as filled with the serendipitous charm that marks the courtship of her fictional lovers, but that doesn't make Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry feel any less universal. We meet Lenore and Hal after their relationship has ended; that the relics of their life--spent in fits and starts of togetherness--are presented in a Valentine's Day auction catalogue has the potential to strike a bitter chord. What comes across instead is that these items, ranging widely from gifts, postcards, and photos to conspiratorial notes and precious evidence of daily rituals, deserve to be cherished for the love they still so clearly honour. --Anne Bartholomew


“Taken together, the item descriptions provide a running, cumulative portrait of one couple’s glorious rise and deflating fall. . . For people who have ever thought that the little gestures, tokens and inside jokes of their relationships were unique to them, Ms. Shapton’s book comes as a poignant, jarring reminder of the sameness of the steps that so many couples retrace. . . Despite the mist of melancholy that floats amid this photographic record, there is also humor, caprice, knowingness and the implicit suggestion that changing feelings and fading possessions can’t rob a true romance of the value it had at its height. As Lenore and Hal’s remembrances show, a love affair is worth more than its trappings could fetch at a jumble sale.” —Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times
Important Artifacts . . . from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris may look like an everyday auction catalog. But the auction itself is a literary conceit: What this book-type object really does is show us the trajectory of a failed four-year relationship — by showing us the physical detritus that two (fictional) lovers leaver in their wake.
    “Conceived and executed by the art director of the New York Times Op-Ed page, Leanne Shapton, the story concerns Lenore Doolan (a food writer for the Times) and Hal Morris (a photographer). Doolan appears to have been a clever and adoring girlfriend, who showered the often-absent Morris with confetti-packed envelopes (LOT 1126) and lavender pajamas (LOT 1061). Morris, who had commitment issues and a drinking problem, expressed himself via mixtapes (LOTS 1276 and 1044). What finally drove them apart? Each of the 331 lots provides another piece of the puzzle. Yes, breaking up is hard to do, but reading about it has never been so pleasurable.” —Very Short List
“[Shapton's] book tells the story of a hopeful young New York couple and their four-year relationship almost completely through their things, many of which end up unceremoniously, and improbably, under the gavel: books, pajamas, bedside lamps, a stuffed squirrel, an astrakhan coat, the winning half of a wishbone and lots of notes, inscriptions and e-mail messages that start out giddy and become slowly more complicated, angry and sorrowful.
    “If there were a real failed-relationship auction house named Strachan & Quinn, where the sale is supposed to take place on Valentine’s Day, the event might actually draw a modest crowd, if only because the fictional Hal Morris, a globe-trotting photographer in his early 40s, and Lenore Doolan, who is presented as a late-20s cake columnist for The Times’s Dining section, are generally more meticulous than conspicuous in their consumption.” — Randy Kennedy, The New York Times
“The task is daunting: How to render the dissolution of a relationship in a new way? Leanne Shapton succeeds against all odds with this wildly romantic and erudite book.”   —Dave Eggers, What is the What
“Leanne Shapton’s splendid book is completely sensational and over-the-top great.  I am nuts about it.  This is the stuff of life, literally.  Oh, love. Oh, despair.   Oh, stolen salt shakers.”—Maira Kalman, The Principles of Uncertainty
“Whenever I come across something of Leanne Shapton’s—an illustration in The New York Times, or the wooden books she makes—I feel like I have found a hidden treasure.  What a great idea—to create a fake auction catalog. It’s so original, and the items are perfect and brilliantly displayed.  Shapton thought of every detail. I truly am jealous.”—Amy Sedaris, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing approach April 23 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved the idea of this book - the tale of a couple who meets and loves, told through a collection of items prepared for auction. I read through it in one sitting. Towards the end it seemed to lose steam, and I was disappointed with the abrupt finish. I would recommend it highly though, and will save it to read again.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet, nostalgic and real March 4 2009
By Virgina Colson - Published on
Much has been made of how original and unusual the format of this book is--an auction catalog, selling off the ephemera of a failed relationship--and that's true, but it's also deliciously fun to read and a great love story. The particulars, such as 10 postcards sent by Hal to Lenore during an early business trip, one to "my gray-eyed princess" one reading "Pissing rain here, work boring, missing you and thinking of your face all the time/ all the time /all the time..." feel universal, and will be sort of heartbreaking to anyone familiar with early-stage besotment. About halfway through, I found myself starting to feel sad and worried that they're going to break up (you know it's coming) and wishing that they could just work it out. And not to give anything away, but the breakup is just as caddish and dirty and over-articulated as breakups are in real life. Leanne Shapton has proven herself to be brilliant with the telling, hilarious details of relationships (her last book entitled "Was she pretty?" for the question she asks about a boyfriend's ex-girlfriend) and the items in the catalog (the silver-plated cup the couple kept their toothbrushes in, Valentines Day menus, a collection of hotel key cards) are often as poignant as the words. I loved this book!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little twee & too clever for it's own good June 11 2009
By Lolly - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When I read about this book, I was struck by what an incredible idea it was. It is a good piece of conceptual art, but a little cute with too may name brands, which ultimately make this feel like yuppie porn. Rather than making the characters specific, all of the high end name dropping makes it kind of smarmy and in the end hollow where it should be touching and universal.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Objects as Witnesses Oct. 11 2010
By dizzyweasel - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The concept of this novel (photo essay? manifest? collage?) is to present the auction catalog of the property of defunct couple Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris as it relates to their relationship. Through the stark, material lot descriptions of the detritus of coupledom, the author presents the falling in and out of love in a plausible, understated manner. We see numbers exchanged on napkins, polaroids, emails, letters, gifts, menus, and agendas from the couple's 4-year courtship laid out in chronological order.

Some lots speak for themselves - letters exchanged by the couple, notes sent to friends, but the subtle nuances, the underlying evidence examines the psychology of a relationship. What the couple tells one another is contrasted and contradicted by letters sent (and, more poignantly, unsent) to friends, appointments made on the sly, possible betrayals (for example, Lenore makes a date with an ex-boyfriend, and later in the catalog we see Harold carrying an umbrella we are told belongs to the ex-boyfriend, left in Lenore's apartment - when was it left? did she cheat? we don't know). In notes to themselves, private musings, Harold and Lenore are ambivalent, doubt, make lists of pros and cons, visit therapists. But all the while, for a couple of years anyway, they present a loving, happy face to one another. Only later does the relationship collapse on itself, weighed down by the crushing force of incompatibility too long ignored. Harold reminiscences about ex-girlfriends, travels too frequently, gives Lenore gifts of things that belonged to other women in his life, resents Lenore's burgeoning career as a columnist. Lenore has a short temper, is much younger than Harold, cannot decide what she wants out of life, tries to daub the cracks in their love life with thoughtful gifts and food. Like most real world relationships, it ends not with a bang, but a whimper: trips ending in tears and indecision, a pregnancy scare, indifference, and finally a break that turns into a break-up.

One of the strengths of the novel is that the author has created a couple that puts on such a convincing show of functionality and appeal. If you knew them, you'd admire them. They seem so together and fun - they travel, fill their apartment with bizarre kitsch, dress in beautiful vintage clothing, photograph well, and in all respects put on the mask of perfection you so often see in couples with whom you're acquainted and wish you could be like. Perhaps the message is that underneath the trappings, the stuff, the facade, no relationship is ever what it seems.

All that said, I give this novel 3 stars, as it failed to arouse any strong feelings in me either way. Like a lengthy relationship that has long since reached its natural end, this book evokes neither love nor hate, just the resigned acceptance that it was what it was.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars With the Outcome Known.....Who are H & L? Jan. 5 2010
By M. Majury - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
With the outcome known if you have read reviews or featured articles about the book, it is with a voyeuristic morbidity you view the book. You know they will not end up together and so you look for the clues to the unraveling of the relationship. It makes you think about your own archeological digs when contemplating an ended love affair which is rather depressing. The mood captured, either by intent or not, is of a dated perspective on love and relationships. It as if two people, too in love with living a lifestyle that ended thirty- to forty-years ago found each other, and got lost in the affectations of love, as opposed to the working on the reality of a relationship. And, maybe that's the point. It was hard to determine who the real Hal and Lenore were. Were they two people who loved vintage, literature to excess, vintage clothing and expensive gifts that captured their current mask? Or, were they just two people who were too narcissistic and self-absorbed in the persona they present to the outside world to drop it inside a relationship?

Even with these questions, there is a sense of doom from the moment you open the book and see the black and white photographs. You read it, examine their lives, analyze the meaning behind the items to be auctioned off, and know it all is leading to the dissolution of their relationship. This does not lead to a sense of optimism, but instead a practical dread of inevitability.

Ultimately, you wonder why they would then dump everything to do with the relationship if it was that painful. And, the "artifacts" do not indicate this was anything other than a passionate infatuation for two people who were trying on a "relationship".
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I Wonder What Objects My Relationships Would Leave Behind? April 6 2010
By Dai-keag-ity - Published on
I let a friend of mine borrow this mock catalog, and he remarked, "What a mean thing to do to a tree, to turn it into a book as bad as this one!" Well, I didn't share his disdain but I will say Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, was not what I was hoping it would be. Full marks for the originality of the concept, but after that, well, I don't know what else might have been included in the content that could have sustained the razor-thin plot and transformed it into an interesting book of this length. Reading Important Artifacts did, as my title shows, make me halt and ponder the question I asked up there, but beyond that....shrug. The book was just barely worth finishing.
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