Important Artifacts auctions off a fictional past

Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris

By Leanne Shapton. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 144 pp, $22.50, softcover

When was the beginning of the end of the relationship between Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris?

You might find a clue in Lot 1088, containing two paperbacks (“good condition, some wear”) from the couple’s trip to Venice in June 2003. Most curious is Lenore’s handwritten note inside Mary McCarthy’s Venice Observed: “Coffee / Pane / Spaghetti carbonara w/anchovies / Salad / Gelato (straciatella) / Veal thing / Polenta cake / Cakewalk due / Cried in shower /H texting, drinking, and smoking all night on balcony.” Incidentally, this lot is appraised at $10 to $20.

Leanne Shapton, illustrator, writer, and New York Times art director, has created something maddeningly, seductively clever: the saga of a love affair in the highbrow-eye-candy form of a mock auction catalogue. Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry chronicles the dizzy, romantic rise and stormy, woeful fall of fictional couple Lenore (Times food columnist) and Hal (continent-hopping photographer), as represented by their stuff. Note: the relationship minutiae and trajectories might feel startlingly familiar, but some people—here, faux people—have way cooler stuff than you.

An exacting curator doesn’t hurt. Looking uncannily real, Shapton’s catalogue of 332 “lots” is an exquisite blend of images and meticulous descriptions. Through vintage designer clothes and French paperbacks and amorous, witty, pissed-off notes (Lot 1017, note on a theatre playbill, alternating between Doolan and Morris: “Are you crying? / No, allergies. / Crying!”), the rigorously hip pair is revealed.

In the end, it’s a playful, surprisingly poignant mashup of staged photographs, mixed-media collage, and love story. Love, it seems, is more than a mix CD, a paperback of Masculine Feminine, or an antique stuffed squirrel. But hmm—is it worth bidding more than $50 on said rodent (Lot 1303)?