A collector who fills his Los Angeles home with carefully collected junk

It had taken several months for Jonathan Pessin to find the weathered, hollow fiberglass Coke bottle that now waits between the dining and kitchen areas of his loft in Los Angeles’ industrial Frogtown neighborhood. Reportedly produced by the Coca-Cola Company in the 1970s or 1980s, the six-foot-tall sculpture was one that Pessin, a collector and dealer of foreign objects and furniture, has been “seriously thinking about,” a type of white whale. in his years-long search for all kinds of everyday objects displayed in Claes Oldenburg-like proportions. He had recently lost a plastic rotary phone fit for a giant (“It still haunts me,” he says), but who knows where it may have gone in a 1,500-square-foot space already overcrowded with a to-scale sculpture. by the modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe; a solid leather chair modeled after the gauntlet of legendary Yankees midfielder Joe DiMaggio; a human eye-shaped bowling ball hanging on Pessin’s couch instead of a throw pillow; and a papier-mâché Ticonderoga pencil, almost as long and yellow as a school bus, that hangs along the balcony railing of the upstairs bedroom. There, lying over the duvet, lies a pair of jeans so big it looks like the mattress is being pulled out of his own pants.

“I want the best, weirdest version of something, and I want to live my life like I’m in a sculpture garden,” says Pessin, 51. He looks down from the alcove into a crude open-plan apartment with 22-foot-high, wood-beamed ceilings that are wall-to-wall are filled with his many aesthetic fixations: before his oversized phase – which he now renounces, having ironically noticed large objects in design circles and online – there was the tangential but different papier-mâché one. Before that, he collected art featuring donkey iconography, including a worn painting in his staircase pierced with two bullet holes that “supposedly hung in a Mexican bar, where they got drunk and shot at it,” he says. Over the years, he has collected several heavily patinated copper Rubik’s Cubes, an assortment of coin-operated children’s attractions, and numerous hand-shaped sculptures in plaster or wood. Lately, he’s been loving perforated metal pieces and bringing in outdoor furniture, whether it’s the towering cactus-shaped planters that flank his 1970s B&B Italia sofa, or the trio of textured fiberglass boulders that serve as his coffee table. – for the time being, at least, until he again rearranges the hundreds of wares in his house. (His friend, Los Angeles-based designer Pamela Shamshiri, sometimes helps.) “I buy ridiculous things, but I like to think my tastes evolve,” he says. “In a way, this loft is like the inside of my brain.”

Pessin never intended to have that much stuff. Nearly a decade ago, he began building his library of objects—perhaps best thought of as a collection of many sub-collections, worthy of his own cataloging system, not that he will ever be so organized—after falling for the thrill of the chase, that sense of unexpected discovery, at flea markets like the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He now appears before dawn, flashlight in hand, ready to race through the hundreds of stalls as the doors open at 5am, hoping to grab treasure before the other pirates. This search led him to estate sales, junk shops, art auctions and prop houses, where he is always on the lookout for an asset that “could somehow fill the hole in my heart,” he jokes, “although that is rarely the case.” .” And yet living with clutter may have always been his destiny: As a kid in Brookline, Massachusetts, he collected rocks, went shopping with his mom for antiques, rarely missed “The Price Is Right” — even today, he’s proud to know how much something should cost, a skill that comes in handy when haggling — and slept in a converted closet under the stairs, which he says prepared him for the array of flexible, atypical Los Angeles homes he’d lived in since moving to his 20s. the city moved to work in the film industry. “I’m attracted to heavy stuff and metal stuff, and I’m sure it has to do with some sort of durability,” he says. “Glass makes me nervous. Ceramic makes me nervous.”

NOT LONG AFTER Pessin became a fixture on the collecting circuit, he had amassed enough inventory to become a dealer himself. At the time, he was mainly focused on the kind of small objects and quirky knick-knacks that now crowd his own tables and bookcases, as well as anonymous art, unsigned works that might – though probably not – have been created by a master, or just someone talented. enough to create something visually interesting or at least replicate something familiar. In Pessin’s home office, tucked away in a corner under his stairs, a copper-colored Jean Prouvé-esque desk sits beneath a wall-closing facsimile of a geometric painting by Frank Stella. He also owns works reminiscent of those by Ruth Asawa, Piet Mondrian, Alexander Calder, Richard Diebenkorn and many others; when he once tried to authenticate a wooden sculpture through an auction house through representatives of the Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, the artist himself wrote back in capital letters that the piece was not his, which only further aroused Pessin’s suspicions.

As his name and collection grew, so did top interior designers such as Kelly Wearstler and Sally Breer; he soon started selling them art and furniture for their projects. “His perspective is so refreshing and irreverent,” Breer says. “He’s not precious and he has a sense of humor, but there’s also a refined elegance to how he values ​​quality.” Pessin’s hobby had in fact become a full-time business. He called it NFS, after the industry term “not for sale,” referring to his own habit of inquiring about items other dealers wouldn’t let go. Initially he sold directly from his own loft, where he moved in 2014; He has since taken over both an adjacent showroom and overflow storage space from artists who have given up their studios in the complex, a maze of low, gray stucco warehouses built around the 1940s. The only problem, Pessin says, is that he “sometimes experiences pain” when a customer tries to buy a piece he doesn’t want to give up. And there are certain items that are indeed NFS, most notably his series of works by late 20th-century artist and designer Robert Loughlin. Employing both Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat as a picker in New York’s flea markets and vintage stores, Loughlin repeatedly painted the same strong, cigarette-smoking beefcake face on mugs, tables, chairs, and other surfaces. Legend has it that his eye was so perceptive that he once found an actual painting by Salvador Dalí for $40 that later sold at Sotheby’s for $78,000, perhaps explaining Pessin’s fascination.

“I connect with things more than people,” says Pessin, pointing to some of his Loughlins. “But I don’t want to have so many things.” Still, he doesn’t seem to mind — he shops seven days a week — and, really, what’s the harm in that? All this stuff will continue to flood our planet whether he buys it or not. And in an age that fetishizes minimalism, upcycling and constant self-optimization, the life of the collector is a reminder that there is, in fact, no moral obligation to acquire or reject objects. There are only people who enjoy things – and those who don’t.

Photo Assistant: Andy Cullen

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