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Squirreling Monkeys

The Akron Art Museum explores the fine art of collecting.

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It's a mouthful, but Pictures, Patents, Monkeys, and More . . . On Collecting is an intriguing title for an art museum exhibit. Especially the monkey part.

Opening Saturday at the Akron Art Museum, the exhibit will likely appeal both to highbrow connoisseurs and pack rats. Representing one end of the collecting spectrum is the edgy contemporary art from the collection of Ohio businessman Robert J. Shiffler; on the other end, most curiously, is a display of 100 sock monkeys.

The museum "is interested in what compels one to collect contemporary art," says curator Katie Wat. "But not everyone is interested in collecting that. That's where the sock monkeys come in. And then we've got a look at the history of collecting in the U.S., which is supplied by the patent items from the Smithsonian."

Wat supplemented the New York-based traveling exhibition with items from local collectors. These objects include landscape paintings by Ohio-born artist Alexander Wyant, rare drawings by Dutch and Italian masters, and classic television memorabilia from the 1940s through the '80s. "Folks have been responding to the fine art enthusiastically, because it's got the feel of walking through someone's very private collection," Wat says. "And the TV items have been a very fun walk down memory lane."

She hopes visitors will leave the exhibit not only appreciating the collections of others, but also thinking about the nature of collecting: "Is collecting just for pleasure? Is it the thrill of the hunt? Or [is it] a way to cope with everyday anxiety?"

Striving for the uncommon plays a role in both the Shiffler collection and the Smithsonian's patents. But the world may never know why sock monkeys are worthy of such obsessive enthusiasm. Their New York owner, who has amassed nearly 2,000 sock monkeys, has chosen to remain anonymous.

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