Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

6 August 2014

Christie’s, that venerable London institution where you might just as easily pick up a priceless Cézanne as a battered chaise longue, it turns out, has a sense of humour. On 3 September (and available to peruse from this week) the auction house will be listing many of the weird items that simply don’t fit anywhere else in its catalogue as part of its Out of the Ordinary auction.

And they are as fantastically naff-sounding as you might hope – Paul McCartney’s door, a zebra with a narwhal’s tusk fixed to it (this is a zebracorn, for the uninitiated), Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls warm-up tracksuit – collector’s items from a funkier, hokier parallel universe mirrored in the backs of many people’s own lofts and wardrobes.

Of course a lot of these artefacts are genuinely rare – an Enigma code-breaking machine certainly stands out – but I think part of the appeal of anyone turning up to buy many of them is that some are also a bit silly. There is no precedent for how much an animatronic Energizer Bunny that was once used for close-up shots in the famous battery adverts of the 1980s should go for but you can be pretty sure that it will go. Christie’s are fairly sure of that too and have priced it accordingly.

It’s all good fun. But I can’t help but think that events such as these are benefiting financially from an almost insatiable appetite from the public in recent years to get their hands on something, anything, with a story to it – even if that story is 20 years stuck in a cupboard.

We used to call many of these things “old” or “secondhand”. But in the past decade or so, a newly revised (or perhaps that should be pre-loved) term has crept into the language, which in its re-imagined state can encompass anything from a 1929 Bentley to your friend’s awesome Global Hypercolor T-shirt from the 1990s. The word is “vintage” and it now seems to mean whatever anyone wants.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In these austere times when needless wastage is high on the agenda, valuing and reusing what we already have should be encouraged. But I’m not sure that overvaluing it should be. Just because something’s old, doesn’t mean it’s interesting. I think the objects that we’re making right now in the present are part of a story that’s not even finished yet and that’s infinitely more exciting than any quaint past trend or vague, misplaced notion of quality.

However, if you are simply on the lookout for a pretty fresh tracksuit and the price is right – Jordan’s is as good as any.

Tom Hall is a sub editor and writer for Monocle.

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