AUGUST CHALLENGE DAY 28

Thursday 29 August

Exhibition: Out of the Ordinary
Place: Christie’s, Old Brompton Road

The vast world of collectibles is mostly hidden from sight but, at any given time, there’s always proportion that’s out there, as it shuttles from one collection to the next. Christie’s annual Out of the Ordinary auction, for which an extended viewing period is on now, gives a great chance to see a section through the richer, and often weirder end of the collectibles scene.

Among the mainstays of all collecting are memorabilia, and the most valuable of these offer their owners a connection with some high point of human achievement. An absolutely top-notch item here are the beautifully preserved spiked leather running shoes worn in 1954 by Roger Bannister when he broke the 4-minute mile. The top estimated price is £50K but, 4 years ago, the watch that timed the race went for almost £100K, so the estimate could be passed. Other less distinguished items include Tom Cruise’s “suspension suit” from Mission Impossible, a felt crown worn by Kate Moss for her first modelling job at the age of 14, an original Grateful Dead gig poster, a Minotaur costume from the Narnia film Prince Caspian and a giant boiled egg from the BBC TV Centre. I am prepared to nod respectfully to Sir Roger’s achievement but the rest of this stuff leaves me yawning.

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Instead, among the various fossils, taxidermy and peculiar furniture on view my eye is drawn to even weirder objects for sale. The iron chastity belt is particularly horrible: it was made (sad to report) as recently as the 19th century. Another metal item is a spoon-shaped stainless steel garden bench, incorporating its own bird-bath.  Nearby stands a fetish object for Freudians, a realistic wax statue of Sigmund himself by Lyn Bamber.

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Another fetishistic lot is a cased icon by the child-obsessed Japanese artist Hiroshi Furuyoshi. It shows a young teenage girl standing in front of a fantasy sweetshop and made me feel distinctly queasy. 

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A mural portrait of Obama by Joe Black is called Shoot to Kill. It’s made entirely of black and white plastic soldiers, which I’m not sure is quite fair on the President. There have been many more bellicose Commanders-in-Chief.

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Of artists’ works, I also noticed a precocious battle scene by the 8-year-old Rex Whistler, a harpsichord decorated by John Craxton, a door from Ronald Searle’s studio signed by hundreds of his visitors (including, large and central, the autograph of Stephen Hawking) and a pair of shoes decorated by Ralph Steadman.

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The oil painting of Dante’s Heaven and Hell by the Spanish artist Victoria Maria Cortezo (1908-78) might have appalled Dante, and it’s certainly lurid, but the interest lies in the close detail, the individual figures spinning around like gargoyles on their way to salvation or damnation.

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I specially admired the Namibian photographs by Jim Naughten from his series Costume and Conflict. The Herero tribe are much given to making and wearing costume, in the theatrical rather than the ethnic sense. This one shows two Otruppe cadets (otruppe being a local adaptation of “troop”) dressed to kill, but sharing a pair of gaiters.

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Finally, masked coyly at Christie’s behind a velvet hanging is a spirited little painting from the French 18th century, entitled Ménage à Trois. It contains an odd detail not usually seen in erotica: the worry beads in the left hand of one of the gentlemen. Are they meant as a distraction, an attempt to slow himself down?

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