www.agentofchaos.com presents guest artist - Harley Spiller aka Inspector Collector
"Zany Collectors Gather at Union Pool"
February 28, 2005

Pez dispensers, cans of mackerel, umbrellas, and other assorted objects were artistically displayed last week in the back room of the bar Union Pool at the corner of Union and Meeker streets in Williamsburg. Various collectors had set up displays for a Collectors' Night hosted by the City Reliquary Civic Organization, an arm of the City Reliquary Museum.

On hand were the museum's vice president of collections, Bill Scanga, and artist Dave Herman, who wore a blue sash emblazoned with the word "president." Mr. Herman founded the City Reliquary Museum, which is about five blocks from Union Pool at the corner of Grand and Havemeyer streets. The modest exhibition space consists of two barred windows at street level displaying objects representing New York history - such as the rope that held the mourning drape from City Hall's balcony in the wake of 9/11. The windows also play host to rotating groups of objects on loan from local collectors. "For the people," it says on the wall. Admission is free and access is 24 hours a day.

The event at Union Pool was a window dressing come to life. It featured film screenings, presentations, and a panel discussion about collecting. A film by Greg King was screened called "Manhattan Canyon," of Manhattan's skyline. Mr. King himself was on tour with the band called the Rachels.

"The collecting energy in this room is amazing. I feel like I'm with my people, finally," said a professor from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richard Roth, who showed slides of various collections such as Claes Oldenburg's ray guns. He discussed artist Peter Greenaway's "100 Objects to Represent the World," which included a shadow, a fallen tree, the alphabet, and a pile of dust. Mr. Roth showed examples of thrift-store paintings found by artist Jim Shaw, and described the work of artist Fred Wilson who "messes with other people's collections" such as an installation created for the Maryland Historical Society, in which Mr. Wilson juxtaposed slave shackles alongside fine silver vessels.

Mr. Roth said artists collect "quotidian, ordinary, and daily" objects for various reasons, including for use as source material.

Mr. Roth's own work was presented at a show at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts called "Grief: A Collection." It contained newspaper clippings of people in extreme grief. Mr. Roth said that the images could be organized by date, nationality, or even by gestures, which he said was a kind of grieving lexicon. Another exhibition of Mr. Roth's that he mentioned featured forms collected from stores, doctors offices, and other places offering a glimpse of the "postindustrial matrices that govern" contemporary life. Mr. Roth also shared examples of working artists' palettes he had collected including a Frisbee, a license plate, and a clipboard. For palettes, artists make use of "anything that doesn't walk away," he said.

After Mr. Roth's presentation, the Poo Syndicate's film "The Flea Market Project" was shown. The movie featured flea-market finds from the Ohio River Valley such as homemade banjos made of metal cans and string.

The chair of the English department at Long Island University, Leah Dilworth, moderated a panel on collecting. She is the editor of "Acts of Possession: Collecting in America" (Rutgers University Press). The panel included Edwin Gonsalez, who collects and restores bicycles, and the resident geologist of the City Reliquary Museum, Nik Sokol, who is interested in "earth processes and decay."

Ms. Dilworth asked each panelist to describe "what motivates them to collect." Radio documentarian Piya Kochhar, who works at Sound Portraits Productions, said that she collects memories.

Harley Spiller, known as "Inspector Collector," collects objects such as pencils, MetroCards, citrus fruit peeling devices, hot sauces, paperclips, and things that rhyme with his name. On display on the wall was some of Mr. Spiller's collection of fortune-teller handbills. The display was interactive: Viewers could make their own.

An audience member asked Mr. Spiller what objects he had found that sounded like his name. He said he had a stick from the sport of hurling and a type of ball called a "sliothar." He had a special kind of scissors called "handy snippers"; a special device for cooling martini glasses called a "frosty chiller"; a baseball card featuring Harry Spillman, and a reply to a letter from Phyllis Diller.

In response to Ms. Dilworth's question regarding his motivation, Mr. Spiller said, "It's fun. It's cool. It defines the term pastime. It's also an alternative to reading."

The question arose as to how many objects make a collection. One panelist recalled that a vice president of Sotheby's once said "One is enough. If you spend $44 million on a Van Gogh, you're a Van Gogh collector."

Among those in the packed audience were Rose Bochansky, whose mackerel cans were on display; George Ferrandi with his Pez collection; and Mediabistro.com's community coordinator, Greg Bloom.

Inspector Collector

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