09.28.16 Press

Brent Birnbaum in ARTnews

HABITAT: Obsessions—Artists, Curators, and Dealors Share Their Unusual Collections

BY Maximilíano Durón and Katherine McMahon

Read on ARTnews

While this issue of ARTnews focuses on today’s prominent art collectors, the urge to amass objects—both valuable and not—is nearly as old as mankind. The ancient Greeks and Romans collected, as Erin Thompson writes in her recently published book Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present, as did Dutch aristocrats of Holland’s Golden Age, American tycoons of the Edwardian era, and as do eBay addicts today. In Europe of the mid-16th century, it was fashionable to gather strange or exotic objects into Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities—the precursors to the museums of the present, but also to such accumulations as Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly collection, featured in “The Keeper,” an exhibition that runs through September 25 at New York’s New Museum. As New Museum creative director Massimiliano Gioni writes in the catalogue for this show, motivations for endowing objects with significance are myriad, while collections may “range from staggeringly maximalist efforts to modest struggles charged with urgency.” Nevertheless, as Gioni says about the collections included in “The Keeper,” most are “acts of faith in the power of images.”

For our Top 200 issue, this special installment of Habitat, titled Habitat: Obsessions, explores the surprising non-art collections of art-world professionals, including dealers, artists, and curators, whose activities in this area often influence their work in unexpected ways. Over the next two weeks, each of those collections will be featured on the site—one each weekday.


Sean Kelly…

Michael Kohn…

Ursula von Rydingsvard…

Tom Eccles…

Matthew Higgs…

Janet Borden…

Brent Birnbaum

Coat-check tags

“Collecting is my medium,” the artist Brent Birnbaum told me recently. Birnbaum has collected treadmills, Barack Obama T-shirts, pigeon feathers (found on the streets of New York), Ikea furniture, ice trays, fridges (the material for a recent show), Adidas tracksuit pants, and Brian Bosworth memorabilia, among quite a few other things. “I spend years and decades building some of my collections,” he said. Some of his finds end up in artworks, while others he simply holds on to.

Birnbaum’s most peculiar collection is almost certainly his assortment of museum coat-check tags, which he has acquired (some might say stolen) from all over the world. He has abandoned clothes, bottles of water, newspapers, and books in cloak rooms in order to acquire them. He obtained his first tag in 2005, from the Whitney Museum in New York and since then has grown the collection to 48 tags. “I’m interested in collecting and archiving objects that no one else is saving,” he said. “Museums collect pieces, but no one is collecting pieces of museums. Well, I am.”

Barbara Bloom…

Aaron Curry…

Tony Oursler…

Tags: , .

This site uses analytics, cookies and/or other 3rd party technologies that may have access to your data, which are used to provide a quality experience. If you do not agree, opt out and we will not load these items, however, necessary cookies to enable basic functions will still load. Visit our Privacy Policy to learn more.
Contact Us:
Email us at [email protected] for requests involving data we collect. View our Privacy Policy for more info.
Opt In / Out:
To change your opt in settings, please click here to opt out or in. Or, close this popup.

Subscribe to our mailing list

(Press escape key to close this popup.)
Skip to toolbar