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Jack Smith

Pasadena Art Alliance's 'Bizarre Bazaar' goes to show that one donor's trash is another collector's treasure

May 14, 1987|JACK SMITH

Once again the women of the Pasadena Art Alliance have worked their annual miracle--making order out of chaos for their Treasure Sale.

This year they're calling it the "Bizarre Bazaar," and bizarre it is.

Instead of holding it in a house, as they have in recent years, they are holding it on the eighth floor of the Arco Building at Pasadena Avenue and Union Street, in Pasadena.

It will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with free admission and free parking.

I dropped by Tuesday for a preview.

They have never had so much room. The sale is spread out over the entire floor in several sections, including spaces designated as a garage and an attic.

Thousands of articles had already been priced, and it looked as if there were thousands yet to go. A group of women showed me through, taking turns as they peeled off to do their chores.

"It's unbelievable what people will give away," one said.

I thought it was more unbelievable what people would collect in the first place. As usual, there were hundreds of very respectable items, at bargain prices, but it was the weird things that caught my eye.

Over a desk in what they called the den ("We use the terms loosely") was an oil painting of a clown playing a mandolin and a girl with a monkey in her lap. It looked as if it might have been painted by Picasso in his monkey period.

An indescribable ornament caught my eye. I say it was indescribable, but I'll try. It was a figure of a man made of sheet brass. He stood on a base made of two round pieces of wood. His arms were thrown out, and from each arm a long metal pole extended. Attached to the end of each pole was a copper toilet tank float.

"What would you call that?" I asked.

"Hmm. I'd call it an assembly."

"Or maybe a construction."

Dozens of ceramic mugs and pots stood on a cabinet. They were all of the asymmetrical period when the hippies were expressing their feelings at the potting wheel. Everything was supposed to look handmade.

Two elegant wing chairs faced each other in the living room. The fabric was a print of jungle vines and berries, jaguars and unicorns on a black background.

What appeared to be a copy of Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" stood against the wall in a large ornate frame.

"That's the one that sold for $39.5 million. It's probably just a copy."

I stopped to examine a truly bizarre device on the wall. It was a small oil painting of Chinese paper money, over which a metal strainer with a wooden handle was upended, handle down. A small metal cup was attached to the bottom of the handle. From a rack at the top of the painting's white frame four poles extended out in four directions, like flagpoles. Suspended from each pole was a magnifying glass.

"That's functional art," someone said.

I asked what its function might be.

"I think you are supposed to put a candle in the cup and look at the flame through the magnifying glasses."

One area was done entirely in Art Deco. That was indeed the era of wonderful nonsense. One woman picked up a clear plastic tube that coiled upward, like a snake. "You know what this it?" she asked.

I didn't.

"It's an umbrella rack."

On an Art Deco table a set of clear plastic martini glasses rested. A red plastic straw drained the bottom of the glass, ran down the stem, and curled around to rise above the lip.

Perhaps it once was a very chic way to drink martinis.

A wedge of black varnished wood lay on an end table. "What's that?" I asked.

Someone snatched it up. "It's part of a broken table leg," she said. "It's not supposed to be there. Someone must have thought it looked Art Deco."

We walked into the Motel Room. It had been furnished in 1950s motel overstuffed. A suitably egregious still life hung on the wall: a mandolin, a goblet, a candelabrum, a water pitcher, a bowl of wax fruit and a cabinet with a plant on top.

One of the women held up a cluster of eight fretted golden balls attached separately to an electric cord. She turned on a switch and the balls lighted up and began to play Christmas carols.

In an oil painting an enormous eye looked down from the wall of an empty blue room. Looking at it closely, I saw another eye reflected in it.

It wasn't a motel room I'd care to stay in.

The garage was full of the kinds of things we accumulate as we go through our various periods of commitment to physical activity: bicycles, barbells, skis, ice skates, rowing machines, wet suits, hunting decoys, golf clubs, a trampoline, tennis rackets. I had an idea that most of them had probably been used for a maximum of three weeks.

In the library I found books for every taste. Richard Halliburton's "The Glorious Adventure," the "Secret Memoirs of Tallyrand" in two volumes, leather-bound; "Mein Kampf," "Vehicles of the Air," by Victor Lougheed (published in 1911); Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," and an early edition of "Black Beauty" "in words of one syllable."

One woman was trying to price a blooming cymbidium in a pot. "Would you pay $25 for that?" she asked me.

I wouldn't; but I knew my wife would.

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