Abess has one of the country’s most idiosyncratic collections at his fingertips, one filled with all manner of material culture, from propaganda posters to iconic transportation signage to commemorative mugs with political undertones. The native Miamian has passionately mined the 180,000-object collection since his appointment as the Wolfsonian’s curatorial research assistant in 2010. Since then, he’s climbed the museum’s ranks and organized several of its most ambitious thematic exhibitions, including last year’s “Margin of Error,” which explored cultural responses to the fear of accidents and catastrophes. For the show, Abess corralled a fascinating cohort of over 200 safety posters, industrial artifacts, paintings, sculptures, and more “to interrogate our footing in this world,” he explains.
As the Wolfsonian gears up for a game-changing, 20,000-square-foot expansion, Abess, along with the Wolfsonian team, will spend much of the next several years conceptualizing a large-scale reinstallation of its permanent collection. In 2020, when the expansion is unveiled, Abess and a colleague will open “Vices,” a show connecting colonialism and class to our cultural obsessions with caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, and chocolate—all through the lens of visual culture.