Valentine bought the piece on the spot for $14,000, which enabled Washburn to finish it. To date, it’s the only one of her installations owned by a private collector. Her environments are typically commissioned by museums and exhibited temporarily (though some come with instructions for reinstallation). Their scale, mass and materials make them a tough sell to collectors. In the past two years alone, she’s made works for the Hammer Museum in L.A., the Whitney Museum at Altria and the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. And while inclusion in the Biennial is known to boost an artist’s value, Washburn, apart from the occasional smaller piece, “is pretty close to as un–commercially marketable as is possible,” says Feuer.
For the Whitney Biennial, Washburn was trying to figure out what to do, and reluctantly scaling back, after the museum suddenly nixed her original plan, an installation that involved selling soft drinks in the gallery.
If her works seem to cry out with some sort of eco commentary, Washburn insists that is not her intent. “I’m not green; I’m greedy,” she says, conceding that she benefits from this age of waste and excess. “There’s definitely an aspect of hoarding that drives this, absolutely! If I see someone walking down the street with a nice piece of wood, I’m like, Where did they get that?”
Washburn’s hoarding instincts took root early on. She grew up in Philadelphia in a house stuffed with the books, animal skulls and bones collected by her father, a physical anthropologist who taught at Temple University. Her mother ran a hair salon, and Washburn learned to make pin curls on mannequin heads. But her keenest childhood memories, she says, are of the solitary hours she spent caring for the assorted newts, guinea pigs and fish she kept in cages and tanks in her bedroom.
These days Washburn lives with her husband, artist A.J. Bocchino, a fellow pack rat and New York Yankees fan. The pair have known each other since eighth grade and work in adjoining studios.
Lately Washburn has been incorporating snails and other living things into her work. For the Deutsche Guggenheim, she constructed an 80-foot sod factory out of plywood and conveyor belts, its roof covered with the quickly yellowing grass it produced.
Her next solo show opens this fall at the Feuer gallery. As the conversation turns to her extensive collection of baseball cards, she mentions that one of her fantasy art projects is to make a baseball stadium. “Some of my ideas are too ridiculous at this point,” she says. “Now that I’ve ratcheted up their complexity and scale, I realize that some of them will sit in my sketchbook longer. So that’s on the back burner.”
She pauses, then adds, “For now.”