The world has changed…and that includes the world of art and antiques.
No longer the exclusive domain of collectors with blue hair or blue blood, today there is a lighter side of collecting that is gaining both momentum and respect – albeit with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
While fine art and high-style antiques are a representation of the wealth and sophistication of past eras, kitsch is, arguably, the “antiques of the people,” and many of these pieces have become extremely popular collectibles.
Long denied validity by academia, the popularity and ubiquity of kitsch has earned dashboard hula girls and penguin-shaped saltshakers the respect they deserve…but never demanded. And, perhaps, that’s the point.
Kitsch does not impose itself. Rather, it simply, and unapologetically, “is.” It calls to mind memories of family road trips and carnival game prizes or your quirky aunt’s cookie jar collection. It’s fun and nostalgic, and these collectibles represent our shared experience of pop culture.
The practicality of kitsch collectibles is two-pronged. Typically, items that are today considered kitsch were mass-produced at the time. So, there were a lot of them. The flip side of that is that they were usually novelties and, while not considered “disposable” exactly, they did not always receive the same care as, say, a fine set of Old Paris vases. So, their initial relative inexpensiveness may today contribute to their rarity – but that only contributes to the joy of the hunt for these collectibles.
Deciding to start a collection of kitsch can be easier than deciding which kitsch to pursue. After all, the term spans such a vast field of items.
Many collectors start with something they inherited or something from their childhood that holds a special memory. A friend of mine has a china cabinet brimming with a wonderfully weird collection of salt and pepper shakers that began with a set in the shape of dolphins bought by her grandmother on her honeymoon in Palm Beach sometime in the 1940s. Each subsequent set has been purchased from antique shops and flea markets while on a trip, and serves not only to be a reminder of the trip, but also of her grandmother’s journey to Palm Beach and the shores of South Florida so many decades ago. While her home is otherwise filled with some of the finest 18th and 19th Century American antiques I’ve ever seen, she asserts that it is these collectibles that give her the most personal joy.
And isn’t that collecting is all about?