Miranda July’s art has always been almost obsessively participatory. In one of her most famous works, “Learning to Love You More,” July dispatched open calls from a website of the same name — exceptionally prosaic assignments like “Record the sound that is keeping you awake” or “Document your bald spot” — and watched as the drawings, videos, photos, and lists poured in from fans around the world, creating an addictive online archive of the mundane. In another, installed at the Venice Biennale in 2009, July created 11 outdoor sculptures on which visitors were meant to pose for pictures they could send to their loved ones. So it makes a certain kind of sense that July would eventually end up in the most transactional business of all — retail — recasting capitalism as a newfangled way in which to engage her audience.
For It Chooses You, a resale shop popping up tonight through December 11 at Partners & Spade in New York, July scoured the New York classifieds, buying up other people’s discards — like a collection of stolen oil paints or a pair of taxidermied deer hooves — and interviewing the sellers to discern the original meaning of those once-cherished objects. The store was inspired by the premise of her new book, also called It Chooses You, which recounts July’s interactions with a series of strangers she met through the classified ads in Los Angeles’s PennySaver in 2009, when she was attempting in vain to finish the script for her film The Future.
Photo (c) Kate Miss
In the book, July travels around Los Angeles, meeting the owners of old family albums and Christmas card collections, and recounting their stories: “I carefully considered each item,” she writes. “Not as a buyer, but as a curious citizen of Los Angeles. Each listing was like a very brief newspaper article. News flash: someone in LA is selling a jacket. The jacket is leather. It is also large and black. The person thinks it is worth ten dollars. But the person is not very confident about that price, and is willing to consider other, lower prices. I wanted to know more things about what this leather-jacket person thought, how they were getting through the days, what they hoped, what they feared—but none of that information was listed. What was listed was the person’s phone number.”
For the store, July recreated a similar narrative on the East Coast; each memento is now sealed in a specially designed package created by Partners & Spade’s Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti and printed with July’s short seller Q&A’s. The items will be sold for the original asking price (plus tax); seven of them are excerpted here.
Slightly Used Schmincke Oil Paints — usable condition (above) $4 each
Are these paints the leftovers of a failed attempt at an art career?
Not necessarily – but I haven’t touched the stuff in years. Painting, especially with oils like these is just a little too slow, and requires much more patience than I find myself having these days.
Were they stolen as a set? Or over a longer period of time?
Defiantly over a long period of time. I used to work at an art store, making next to nothing pay wise and stealing the paint was my way of feeling like I was taking something from them that I deserved. I got obsessed with having one of every color, and creating my own display like the one they had in the shop, but I quit the job before I could get to that point.
Can you tell me a little bit about this collection?
I bought a lot of used match books on eBay, because no one gives away matches anymore, because no one smokes anymore. I love the graphics on the cases.
Is there a reason you’re getting rid of them? It sounds like you really enjoy them…
I do enjoy them, but I’m giving them away because I no longer smoke.
Pair of taxidermy hooves $15
These are kind of bizarre – is there a story here?
Yeah, they are kind of weird. An old roommate of mine had a cousin or uncle or something like that who used to send gifts out every couple of months or so. Most of the time the items were pretty mundane but for some reason these stuck around, and when [my roommate] moved out he left these for me as a birthday gift.
Have they ever shown themselves to be particularly lucky, like a lucky rabbit’s foot?
No, not ever- which is probably why I decided to sell them. They don’t take up much space but something just doesn’t feel right about stowing them away in the closet.
Maybe because they used to be attached to a living animal?
Yeah – Exactly.
Sal — WWII Fork & Knife, $5
WWII era fork & knife. Available for pickup.
What were you doing before you retired?
I was a Federal Agent. I worked for the government. I started with immigration, I deported illegal aliens. This is being taped?
Yeah. Is that okay?
Well, that’s all that I have to say about that. But yeah, the fork and knife belonged to my wife’s father. He fought in World War II, and he came home with it. And we’ve had it ever since. In fact, I have a lot of memorabilia. I have my kids’ teeth, when they lost their teeth. I have their christening outfits. I save everything, I guess.
What do you want to do now that you’re retired?
What I’m doing now is that I’m trying to write. I write short stories, but what I’m trying to do is write a book. There’s a lot of things about the job that you can’t write about, naturally.
Is it a memoir?
I don’t know yet, I keep writing down things I remember. Like as a kid, I remember that I broke the fish tank. And picking up the fish, and trying to hide it so my mom couldn’t see. Stories like that, as a youth, and as an adult. There’s a lot. I’m 65 now.
Natalie, Japanese Dolls, $5
SOLD AS SET – $5
These dolls are very cute, see.
It’s true. I like their bobble heads. They are very cute.
Yes — see, this one is the man. And this one is the lady doll. Together they look very nice. See, their heads move up and down. They are both in good condition.
Yes, I can see that. Can you tell me where you found them?
Where? Well…. my sister, she gave them to me. Do you want to buy them?
I do, yes. Thanks for coming down to meet me. Why are you visiting from the Bronx today?
I came to my daughter’s home today to be with my grandsons the whole day. The grandsons’ nanny has a day off, so I came down to Manhattan to replace her. So I can’t really stay out too long. But I’m glad you like them. They are very special. Just I have no more room, and too many treasures.
Dutch Wooden Shoes, $10
A souvenir from Holland. Hand made.
Can you share with me an experience where your travels really left a lasting impression?
I’ve been to Southeast Asia and just seeing the way people live in the streets, the way they sell food… it’s a very, very hard life. But they’re probably the nicest people you’ll ever meet. And I’ve been there many times, and they’re very accepting of Americans.
What about Holland, how did you feel about being there?
Well, it’s not a third world country. It’s a European country, and very similar to New York. Another city. A lot of ice cream and beer. A lot of french fries with mayonnaise. Lines and lines of people standing in line for french fries, very big there. But this trip I traveled extensively, for almost a year, around Europe.
Is there a place you’re still aiming to visit? A place you’re dying to see?
Bhutan, in the Himalayas. Very few people go, the government regulates the amount of people that can enter the country. I guess they don’t want their citizens to become too westernized. It’s supposed to be a beautiful country. The government also requires that you spend a certain amount of money per day when you’re there, so it can get expensive. And you can’t go as an independent traveler. But I would love to go see it. I would also like to go to Cuba, one day. But you’re not allowed in there, so I would never go.
Katie — Wireless Microphone, $10
Wireless microphone, perfect condition
Like new in box
Available for pickup during the week only
When was the last time you used this wireless microphone?
My dad is a DJ, and he bought this microphone for me because I used to sing in a band with my older brother, and I had mentioned to him that we had a gig playing an outdoor show on a rooftop, and he thought it might come in handy. He was excited that we were going to do it. But I didn’t really want to use it, so it actually hasn’t been used. It works, but I’ve just had it in the box.
How was the show?
Not very good. Our set was short. I almost got electrocuted because it started raining, and we weren’t under a tarp or anything, and all our gear got wet….
Do you think the wireless microphone might have been a good idea?
Ha ha, yeah! I mean, we haven’t played another gig since then, so.
Is the band not around anymore?
Well, my brother is really busy now, and our bassist got a job in a woodworking shop so he doesn’t really have time. Me, I just don’t know.