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Turning Collector Items Into Brilliant Art

While the rest of the art world remains in thrall to the whims of wealthy collectors, the New Museum in Manhattan is celebrating a different kind of collector: the ragpicker, the personal archivist, the obsessive-compulsive hoarder of stuff—some of it precious and some apparently valueless.

With more than 4,000 objects from over two dozen collections, “The Keeper” is a sprawling, four-floor exhibit devoted to the art of collecting things, examining not just the method behind the keeper’s madness but the keeper himself.

What does the process of curating and cataloguing objects reveal about the individual collector? What do our collections say about love, loss, the passage of time, and theunpredictable variety of life?

These questions came to mind during the hour or so I spent looking at over 3,000 photographs—almost uniformly black and white—of people with teddy bears.

Collected by Canadian contemporary artist Ydessa Hendeles, most of the photographs hang on walls as part of a floor-to-ceiling installation that looks like a library, with spiral staircases leading up to a mezzanine. Visitors who want to survey every image will likely end up with their cheeks to the floor, scanning photos for harder-to-spot teddy bears as if scanning the pages of “Where’s Waldo.”

The photographs are organized according to social hierarchy and other compositional narratives: famous people with teddies (Elvis Presley, Ringo Starr, Shirley Temple); teddies as mascots of classrooms, sports teams, school bands, army and naval groups; teddies as erotic fetish objects; teddies and toddlers in carriages, toy carts, and sleighs, or clutched by sick children in hospital beds.

Most of the photographs are family-album portraits of babies and young children, the aristocratic ones pictured in fur coats like their cuddly objects of affection.

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Remember, if you or someone you know is suffering from hoarding, you can contact us at www.facebook.com/CloudsEndCIC for help.

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