Visu­al Arts

My Favorite Things

  • Review
January 8, 2015

Maira Kalman’s My Favorite Things is a book of won­ders. Designed in three dis­crete sec­tions, the author guides us through per­son­al, his­tor­i­cal, and imag­i­nary col­lec­tions of images, objects, mem­o­ries, and words. Much of what she presents to us seems use­less, incon­ve­nient: a bro­ken chair; a medal­lion; post­cards from the Hotel Celeste in Tunisia; tick­et stubs — There is no rea­son,” our nar­ra­tor declares, to save tick­ets and stubs. They are tiny and inconsequential.”

Why, then, does she col­lect and dis­play these things?

In the book’s intro­duc­tion, Kalman writes of being asked to curate an exhib­it based on the col­lec­tion of the Coop­er-Hewitt Nation­al Design Muse­um. The project inspires her, and the sec­ond sec­tion of the book is focused on draw­ings and pho­tographs of objects from that col­lec­tion. Some­times she care­ful­ly walks us through images of those objects: she presents us with a bed to sleep on, and then shoes to walk in upon ris­ing from that bed, and final­ly some uten­sils to sat­is­fy hunger after that long walk. These quo­tid­i­an objects are infused with our col­lec­tor’s delight­ful ener­gy, in the form of col­or­ful brush­strokes and often sparse, mat­ter-of-fact dec­la­ra­tions deliv­ered in her whim­si­cal and famil­iar hand­writ­ing. There are digres­sions and diver­sions, like the wide, rec­tan­gu­lar draw­ing of a can­dy store win­dow burst­ing with beau­ti­ful green and yel­low and orange and red and brown box­es and choco­lates and can­dies and tis­sues lin­ing its shelves.

While the Coop­er-Hewitt col­lec­tion clear­ly inspired the author, the book con­tains much more than that par­tic­u­lar selec­tion of things. It opens with moments from Kalman’s per­son­al his­to­ry— a wed­ding pho­to­graph of her moth­er and aunt; a draw­ing of a room where her aunt used to give her advice about life”; a pho­to­graph of Joseph Beuys’s suit. Every­thing is part of every­thing,” Kalman writes at the con­clu­sion of the book, hav­ing tied these per­son­al mem­o­ries to a muse­um col­lec­tion to her per­son­al col­lec­tions to mem­o­ries of events that occurred long before she was born. The book is suf­fused with sad­ness — you can rely on sad­ness,” she explains— and these bath­tubs and but­tons and lists and doors and box­es recall moments that we, as read­ers, some­how become nos­tal­gic for, along­side our nar­ra­tor. Objects inhab­it the mem­o­ries,” the author wise­ly tells us, and it is true, even if they were not ini­tial­ly our objects or mem­o­ries; mag­i­cal­ly, they haunt us. The won­der is that they have been care­ful­ly con­sid­ered, stud­ied, drawn, and looked at. The won­der is that they were saved and col­lect­ed at all.

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