Figuratively speaking

So what is it, exactly, about Obsolete, Blaine Halvorson's "addiction"? The Venice collector was right when he said trying to describe the place is like trying to describe chocolate without ever having tasted it. You're bound to bumble. There's nothing, really, to compare it to in L.A. Is it a store that feels like a gallery that looks like a museum? Or a gallery that feels like a museum that looks like a store? Or … oh, give up.

Better to hang around the store and study how owner Ray Azoulay makes decisions about what to put where for the April 2 opening of "Private Drama," a show of figurative paintings from circa 1930 to 2005. Maybe get a clue that way about what makes the store, singular, give a shot at explaining it.

But suspecting that it is no doubt all about Azoulay's singular eye, be ready with a backup strategy: Let him speak for himself.

Herewith, Plan B:

"Obsolete is about the new vocabulary of collecting — mixing periods and styles….

"It's all a question of curating, of editing. I make decisions instinctually and painstakingly. I never compromise. After you become a certain age — I'm 46 — you don't settle. You become so discerning. Discernment says it all. Each piece needs to work with the others, and be powerful enough to stand on its own. That applies to homes too. It has to have a synergy, things blending together effortlessly. That's such an important element in interiors, that the objects and art all fit, they have a bond, a similar energy….

"There's the fine arts world and there's the antique store, but in L.A. they haven't been combined. We house 18th, 19th and 20th century figural objects with contemporary art, works that reference the past. I find it incredibly boring to see the way art is presented in the same fashion in gallery after gallery — painting after painting with space in between them. In this show, for example, we want to present art in a different context — change the way it's viewed, show the way people actually live with it. No one lives in a gallery, they live with pieces sharing common space….

"The objects in the store have whimsy, intelligence, shock value. Because they're so figurative, each piece has its own distinct personality. Whether it be serene or pensive or witty or sly or gruesome or pretentious, I relate to those personalities. I see emotion in them, I see beauty. All of these personalities have their own private secret behind their eyes.

"For me, it's like rescuing them and trying to place them in wonderful company, wonderful homes. I thought there was a certain sadness in things considered obsolete. The store is a clever way to give them a sanctuary."

The show runs through May 2 at Obsolete, 222 Main St., Venice; (310) 399-0024.

— Barbara King

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