Phoebe Washburn

September 7, 2005 - February 12, 2006


Phoebe Washburn's sprawling installation, It Has No Secret Surprise, fills the Hammer Museum's lobby walls with a composition of thousands of pieces of found, scavenged, and purchased pieces of cardboard or plywood cut into varying lengths and widths. Washburn’s site-specific work addresses ideas of environmental sustainability and notions of recycling, trash, and landscape. Materials for each piece are collected over time and built up in a slow, seemingly organic process to resemble topological maps, urban landscapes, or the fine layers of shells.

About the Exhibition

By Ana Finel Honigman


Phoebe Washburn makes the most poetic case for recycling since Italian author Italo Calvino's description in Invisible Cities of an immaculate urban paradise where all once-used items are immediately discarded in putrid, sprawling wastelands, ominously swelling outside city limits. Instead of allowing rubbish to pile up, away from view, Washburn brings our exhausted and abandoned trash inside. The New York–based artist redeems our refuse by building enormous architectural, topographical, or organic-seeming sculptures out of bits of boring junk. As she has said of her collecting ethos: "I select objects that have already been worn, already marked and already discarded because then they are already in the state I want them to be. They are what they are already."


Every day she collects scraps from construction sites and armloads of office waste. She culls her materials—including masses of collapsed cardboard boxes, newspapers, and wood chips—from local loading docks, alleyways, and recycling bins. She then organizes, stacks, binds, and nails together her prosaic discoveries. In the process, she combines the chaos and fortitude of an urban pack rat scavenging New York's streets for intriguing items with a dedicated city manager's need to tidy up our civic mess.


Unlike other artists known for scrounging, hording, and recontextualizing found objects deemed unremarkable or undesirable—such as Katie Grinnan, Thomas Hirschhorn, Dieter Roth, Jessica Stockholder, and Sarah Sze—Washburn does not scour the streets for eccentric or personal treasures. Instead she selects dreary artifacts from our tightly organized bureaucratic culture. While ideas about individuality and subjectivity dictate Roth's idiosyncratic assemblages of odds and ends or Stockholder's monsters made from domestic machinery, Washburn's raw materials are unassuming and uneventful throughout their functional life spans. More

Ana Finel Honigman is a critic and PhD candidate in the history of art at Oxford University.

Hammer Projects are organized by James Elaine, and are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and members of the Hammer Circle.

Phoebe Washburn's Hammer Project received additional support from Stavros Merjos and Honor Fraser, Sherry and Douglas Oliver, Susan A. and James N. Phillips, and Kay and Marc Richards.

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