July 9, 2006


Stewing in my mind has been a soup of cryptozoology, mad collectors, early American children's anthologies, and the merzbau -- the cramming of many delicate objects and stories into tiny spaces and minds.

My earliest experiences with "cabinets of curiosities" was at Mr Furnoy's house. He was my piano teacher for a few years in Roseville. He had a tiny 50 square foot, vaulted ceiling in-law unit as a simultaneous library and practice room, with two antiquated upright pianos and every inch of wall space covered in posters. (Famous pianists held their hands midair above Steinways, eyes half-closed. Opera singers, holding prolonged "Ohs" were on the verge of tears. Kandinsky and Pre-Raphaelite art covered other parts of the ceiling.) All of the images came attached to old calendars and the scent of many musty years in this dim little building, so many times I could look at the wall and pretend it was another decade. Compared to the sparseness of the arrangement in my parent's house (nothing wrong with bare white walls), this was a fascinating density of frozen years and musically significant figures.

The nice thing about "cabinets of curiosities" is that they have this anti-white wall gallery comfort. One of my favorite pieces of architectural history is a Sir John Soane, who crammed a multistory house in London full of weird architectural bric-a-brac from all over the world -- to the effect that walls seem like surfaces carrying many oddly shaped barnacles; these precious artifacts, while individually noteworthy, at once become an organic texture of things, that you can start to sense, without a wall or a floor to display, might be broken-off fragments in a trash heap somewhere in the Ancient World. Seeing the objects in such an exhibit puts them somewhere between glorious uniqueness and absolute melding sameness.

The same thing I feel in a place like X21 on Valencia, or Evolution in Soho, and that dive bar I can't recall the name of on Maoming Lu in Shanghai (the one with the taxidermied condor by the front door) -- where the content's curated to have just the right amount of sameness and eclectic to make up a very fine and never boring aesthetic. This is the same feeling I get in my favorite boutiques and vintage shops. Each piece has a unique beauty in its own right, and taking a look about the whole store, you can't help but see the marvelousness of the collection (and its organization) in its entirety, for the personal fascinations of the collectors, the smart hand of its buyers and curators.

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