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To Have and to Hold

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FULL HOUSE

Marilynn Karp collects collections—300 and counting.

"It's totally not p.c.," says sculptor Marilynn Gelfman Karp, picking up one of her "naughty Nellies" from a cabinet. The colorful iron castings—shaped like busty women with legs splayed and arms akimbo—are nineteenth-century bootjacks. "You step on her face with one foot," she says, "and put the back of the other foot between her legs. Then you pull." One Nellie wears a chastity belt; another has a cesarean scar. Karp's collection of about 50 is the world's second largest, "next to a Jesuit priest who teaches at Loyola."

They're just one of 300 collections that Karp and her husband Ivan C. Karp, the legendary modern-art dealer who owns the OK Harris gallery, have amassed, from the conventional (nineteenth-century paintings) to the truly obscure (hat-box papers). They're immaculately stored and displayed in the Karps' Soho loft, alongside Lichtensteins and Warhols, one of which is a portrait of Marilynn. "There is a collection in every drawer," says Karp, pulling one open to reveal trays of premium spoons from the thirties, promoting characters like the Campbell's Soup kids. A cabinet is filled with 1939 World's Fair dishes. Wooden washboards line one room's walls. It might be overwhelming, but Karp's cataloguing—it is no accident that she is the founder of a master's program in collecting and dealing at NYU—is itself art.

She cites two eccentric collections as her most beloved. "Unintended survivors" is made up of things meant to be destroyed (fireworks, foil trinkets to bake into a cake). "Poignant repairs" is a motley crew of broken objects fixed in inventive ways: a porcelain teapot for which someone fashioned an elaborate metal corset and handle, a tortoiseshell comb strengthened with engraved silver. "There are collectors of things with intrinsic value—gold or diamonds or baseball cards. Then there's another group of people who love the unloved," she says. "These are the purest kind." -- Sarah Bernard

HOW SHE STARTED As a child, with bottle caps and Dixie-cup lids. Mom discarded her first lid collection; Karp's been rebuilding it.
DEALER OF CHOICE Richard Axtell in Deposit, New York, for Americana. The one that got away "Warner LeRoy wanted our collection of glass figural candy dispensers. I was testing myself, and sold it. Now I want that collection back!"


STAR TREKKER

Want a piece of Mars? This guy beat you to it.

Darryl Pitt manages jazz stars like Michael Brecker and Andreas Vollenweider. But when another kind of star falls to earth, he's immediately on the phone, booking plane tickets. Pitt collects meteorites, which look very different from terrestrial stones, pockmarked and melted from billions of years in space and a fiery fall to earth. In his West Side two-bedroom, he's got chunks of the moon and even Mars.

Meteorite collectors go to astonishing lengths to bag their rare quarry. In the early nineties, when Pitt started, there were "a couple dozen serious collectors in the world." At the far-flung sites of meteorite strikes, he'd meet the same bunch of Indiana Jones types. "Now there are a couple hundred."

Pitt's collection includes tiny fragments that cost far more than comparable amounts of gold, as well as large specimens, like a 1,200-pound South American meteorite that reminds him of a Henry Moore sculpture. A gram of the moon averages around $2,500, while plain old iron meteorites are about $2 per gram. With the rise of the Internet, even remote Third Worlders can wheel and deal, and prices have soared. "In Namibia, locals used iron meteorites as spearpoints 100 years ago. Now their ancestors use metal detectors to look for iron meteorites to sell."

Steven Spielberg, Nicolas Cage, and James Taylor have all bought high-quality specimens. As for Pitt, so far he's sold 7,000 Planet Mars cubes, which he calls "the world's first interplanetary collectible." They come with a Mars Owner's Manual. -- Jennifer Gould

MOST VALUABLE ITEM A chunk of the Willamette meteorite, the centerpiece of the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center.
TOUGHEST FIND A Martian meteorite. "It's one of the Holy Grails."
WEBSITE OF CHOICE Macovich.com, a virtual museum and auction site.
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAYA Namibian meteorite. "I bought it, but the dealer shipped me the wrong one after someone else offered more."


BEENE COUNTER

For Amy Fine Collins, vintage couture means just one man: Geoffrey Beene.

Amy Fine Collins is in her "horst-inspired" living room, bedecked with purple silk banquettes, Venetian mirrors, and vases of pink feathers that would have made the late photographer swoon. Hanging from a pair of theatrical wooden doors are highlights from her Geoffrey Beene couture collection, a feast of colors, patterns, sequins, and plumes. There's the dance dress concocted of layers of red, green, and purple lace ("I wore it to a wedding a couple of weeks ago," she says); a suit splashed with Technicolor palm trees ("for Palm Beach"); a jacket printed with playing cards ("wore it to the collections") and—one of her most treasured items—a red plaid feather-trimmed coat that she wore to a recent costume party. "If there's ever a party with a theme," she says, "I know I can find something." How many such outfits does she own? "I counted my shoes once, and it still haunts me," she says. "There are certainly more Beene pieces than shoes."

Collins, a special correspondent at Vanity Fair, "started with Beene," as she puts it, when she wrote about his retrospective at the National Academy of Design in 1989. Beene thanked her with a beguiling note: "How is it possible that you know me better than I know myself?" Shortly thereafter, Collins donated her wardrobe of edgy, arty Azzedine Alaïa, Romeo Gigli, and Christian Francis Roth to the Costume Institute, and became a muse to one of fashion's most revered stars. For over a decade, she has worn nothing but Beene (on weekends, it's "old Beene"; when she was pregnant, it was blousy Beene). As she talks of "the intelligence and the clarity" of these clothes, and "the perfection in how they correspond to the body," it's easy to feel that the current fashion moment is irrelevant. "That's part of the attraction with these clothes," she says. "You're never in fashion or out of fashion. You're in Beene." -- Shyama Patel

RAREST ITEM A gray flannel dress from 1967, worn by Vanessa Redgrave to the Oscars.
DEALER OF CHOICE Donald Portlock.
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY A white coat embroidered with ostriches in bow ties that she gave to charity. "I know who bought it, but she won't discuss my buying it back."


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