Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

Independent Curators International supports the work of curators to help create stronger art communities through experimentation, collaboration, and international engagement.

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Curator Ryan Frank developed this proposal during the Summer 2011 Curatorial Intensive in New York. 

Artists are inherently, by nature, obsessive. Toiling away in their studios they spend indefinite periods focused on specific ideas and bodies of work. For artists who make collage or assemblage, the acquisition of their materials provides an additional venue for obsession; they often play the role of collector, scavenger, or hoarder.

Obsess Much brings together a group of emerging and mid-career artists whose work re-examines collage and assemblage as contemporary artistic mediums. While an earlier generation of artists incorporated found, non-art materials into their work through abstract forms and elements of chance, the artists in this exhibition have an alternative outlook and process. Their work is made through deliberate arrangements of objects and incorporates decorative styles such as symmetry and repetition. Consequently, there is an aesthetic similarity that ties these artists together through their collective utilization of craft techniques.

The ways in which these artists acquire used materials is significant and plays a role in how their objects are created. Many of their materials are procured via online venues like eBay and Craigslist or through nostalgia-driven industries such as thrift stores and flea markets. In this regard, the artist’s role is one of a cultural hunter/gatherer: finding similar objects that have been disseminated through commerce and bringing them back together to create a new entity. Thus, the creation of these works involves the process of re-assembling objects that came from the same point of origin.

Collecting and repurposing discarded materials is a commonality in the work of Brent Birnbaum and Antonia Perez. Birnbaum’s installations of used Ikea furniture and pop-culture inspired merchandise function as cultural artifacts while channeling color theory. Antonia Perez is a collector of remainders whose altruistic desire to re-use plastic bags and dish towels transforms them into crocheted decorative objects.

Patrick Jackson and Michael Johansson each use found domestic objects to create intricate, grid-like arrangements. Jackson’s Tchotchke Stacks address the cultural significance of vintage and thrift-store finds and pay homage to contemporary Americana. Johansson’s compacted displays of household items within furniture and architectural spaces serve as monuments to the banality and excess of consumer culture.

The collage work of Ghost of a Dream, a collaborative made up of artists Adam Eckstrom and Lauren Was, incorporates an excessive display of scratched-off lottery tickets to address the desires and cynicism of those left behind by capitalist economies. Working in a similar vein, Andy Barrett’s resourceful “carton marquetry” are composed of discarded food and beverage packaging found on the streets of New York. A connection to place is also significant for London-based artist Abigail Reynolds, whose Universal Now series combines photographs of the same location taken several years apart. The unique layering technique used to make these collages conveys the passage of time and transforms them into three-dimensional objects.

Both Jessie Henson and Penelope Umbrico’s work examines the similarities of universal imagery through the use of appropriation. Henson’s Armada, an installation of seemingly identical maritime paintings purchased by the artist, pokes fun at the banality and clichés of collecting art objects. Umbrico’s Suns From Flickr and TVs From Craigslist series are crowd-sourced assemblages of photographs found online and printed for display on gallery walls.

All of the artists in this exhibition possess an anthropologist’s interest in the past life of objects and their significance to culture. The ideas expressed through these works of art are relevant in light of our current economic situation and specifically address the failings of capitalism, a culture of excess, and a collective longing for the past.

It is worth considering that decades ago artists such as Joseph Cornell and Robert Rauschenberg transformed seemingly worthless objects into works of art, demonstrating their value and significance. By contrast, the artists in Obsess Much take objects that had purported value and by their excessive arrangement demonstrate their worthlessness.


Brent Birnbaum
Antonia Perez
Patrick Jackson
Michael Johansson
Ghost of a Dream
Andy Barrett
Abigail Reynolds
Jessie Henson
Penelope Umbrico


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For more information about this proposal please email Ryan Frank at For more information about the Curatorial Intensive please email