Synopses & Reviews
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 Shaptons 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 arent real people, but might as well be). Through photographs of the couples 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 couples 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.
"Yes, breaking up is hard to do, but reading about it has never been so pleasurable." Very Short List
“Taken together, the item descriptions provide a running, cumulative portrait of one couples 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. Shaptons 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 cant rob a true romance of the value it had at its height. As Lenore and Hals 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 Valentines 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 Timess 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 Shaptons 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 Shaptons—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. Its 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
"The critic Albert Gelpi once described how "the artist kills experience into art," exchanging some part of the vitality of experience for permanence because, "the fixity of ‘life' in art and the fluidity of ‘life' in nature are incompatible." Only the best artists find the delicate balance between art's fixity and life's fluid vitality, and in Important Artifacts
Leanne Shapton shows herself such an artist." Emily Colette Wilkinson, The Virginia Quarterly Review
(read the entire Virginia Quarterly review
About the Author
Leanne Shapton is an illustrator, writer, and publisher who was born in Toronto and now lives in New York. She is the art director of the New York Times op-ed page and cofounder of J&L Books, a nonprofit Publishing company specializing in new photography, art, and fiction. She is the author of Was She Pretty?