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Habitat: Obsessions—A Look at Brent Birnbaum’s Coat-check Tags

Artist Brent Birnbaum with a few coat check tags from his collection.

Artist Brent Birnbaum with a few coat check tags from his collection.

Habitat: Obsessions is a ten-part series of visits to the surprising non-art collections of art-world professionals.

“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.”

Below, a look at some of the coat-check tags in Birnbaum’s collection.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of ARTnews on page 61 under the title “Brent Birnbaum: Coat-check tags.”

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