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Stuff and Nonsense

In the Web Age, No Weird Collection Goes Wanting

June 27, 2004|MICHAEL T. JARVIS

Forget stamps, coins and Beanie Babies. The Fullerton Museum Center's current exhibit, "Gotta Have It Too: Collecting in the Internet Age," revels in how weird it can get out there in the world of the fanatical collector. Hamburger presses, paint-by-number canvases, PEZ candy, memorabilia from L.A.'s original Pig'n Whistle restaurant aren't even the half of it.

This cascade of tchotchkes isn't just demented. It's, like, culturally significant. The exhibit, a sequel to a pre-EBay-era show in 1994, explores the Internet's transformative role in the lives of die-hard collectors. "Every one of these collections has aspects that speak to larger historical and sociological concepts," says John Karwin, curator of the museum, who selected 19 excruciatingly specialized collections for the show.

Here's Karwin on West Hollywood resident Joseph Amster's collection of disc-sized wooden boxes once used to mold hamburger patties into objects of beauty. "It says so much about '50s culture. It sounds a little far-fetched, but it's a metaphor for how people were conforming to a certain image of the perfect family. He's probably the only person in the world that collects these."

Each collection in the exhibit was built using EBay or the Internet, Karwin says. Collectors of arcane objects have been with us since well before the virtual age. But with EBay and other auction sites linking devotees to an expanding universe of available finds, the "treasure hunt" aspect of collecting has changed, he says. Now, "you almost play the role of a curator. You can make your collection more focused but bigger. You have to have every item there is. The term 'completist' is more common among collectors."

The exhibit, which runs through Aug. 8, should give participants a little breathing space at home. Scott Rosen of Fullerton's religious comic books cover two walls at the museum and range from parody comics such as "Jeffrey Dahmer vs. Jesus Christ" and "Battle Pope," to inspirational fare such as a Jewish superhero with the moniker "Shaloman."

Rob Chatlin was happy to give his Los Angeles apartment a respite from the hundreds of Mego action figures he's loaning to the show, including "The Little Rascals," "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "The Wizard of Oz." Chatlin, a freelance writer-producer-editor for TV, says he has been collecting Mego figures since 1991. "For the collector, it's for the memories and the happiness. When I host poker games, it's always a source of conversation."

The show's youngest collector is only 10. Tyler Apple of Fullerton became preoccupied with Thomas the Tank Engine at age 2 and has more than 150 models of Thomas and friends, such as Percy and James, on display. His father, Jim, says the boy probably has 200 to 300 pieces of track at home. "He'll set up elaborate designs through the house. It helps with his creativity."

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