If pretentiousness were a crime, and it is, a shop in my neighborhood called “Obsolete”? would be guilty with Special Circumstances. You really haven’t experienced the extreme limits of absurdity in art collecting until you visit Obsolete in person, but its website will illustrate what’s afoot here. I first read about Obsolete in the Los Angeles Times, in a profile of a local entrepreneur who collects crap like trays of old teeth and tin aircraft dummies from WWII. The dummy cost around $60,000, just a drop in the bucket for this particular “collector”?, who gushed about Obsolete and called its owner a “Visionary.”?
The first time I went there, I was simply overwhelmed by both its rarified atmosphere and its awful collections of useless crap. Each “pieceï¿½? was accompanied by a small white index card with a terse typed description of the item and a price, roughly a thousand times more than its value. A giant wooden pencil from some old advertising campaign was propped in a corner and priced at $5,000. A chipped painted doll head was listed as “antique German doll head with chips. $3,500.”? (Alas, the “French hand-made cheese bowl”? pictured above has been sold.)
My friend and I wandered around the shop, hissing “Look, look!” like little kids in the porn section of a video store. We were excited, disgusted, and trying hard not to laugh. Whenever the young clerk seemed to look our way, we pretended to be admiring something. I adopted my loud Foreign Lady voice, which allows me to act stupid without feeling embarrassed. We flipped through some pricey photography books, which all featured children or adolescent boys in various states of undress. We finally walked out into the fresh air, feeling a bit like Alice emerging from the rabbit hole.
I find myself telling friends about Obsolete whenever the subject of pretentiousness comes up. I always get excited, and I always propose a field trip. I will be the Foreign Lady, and maybe I will have the nerve to barter for a rickety old wooden picnic bench like the one I got at a yard sale once for fifty cents, but is priced by the Visionary at Obsolete at a dignified $6,000.