Over the past decade, Judy Darragh's work has evolved from flamboyant assemblages of op-shop bric-a-brac to drippy posters, which were then refined into more minimalist colour explorations.

And now she's back to blobby, technicoloured sculptural works.

These distinct phases of the former "Queen of Kitsch's" career were revisited in her 2004 survey exhibition at Te Papa, Judy Darragh: So ... You Made It?

The exhibition was not only a retrospective look at her career, but also of our own history, says exhibition curator Natasha Conland, who took on the role of curator of contemporary art at the Auckland Art Gallery last month.

"She is interested not just in the found materials themselves, but in how we value them," Conland wrote in the exhibition catalogue. "The experience of walking through this recent history, with its clash of spectacle and demise, is a reminder of the proud present's ever-fleeting correspondence with the past."

For the Te Papa exhibition, Darragh says she was careful not to display her work in a linear fashion, allowing it to intermingle in fresh and interesting ways.

"I was quite keen on having no labels - I just wanted people to read the work as a whole, not as a whole lot of singular, discrete objects. I love the way we talk about a body of work and the body of work isn't over until the artist's body has had it."

Confirming her reputation for recycling, Darragh says that her Selected Works Selected exhibition at Auckland dealer gallery Roger Williams Contemporary is a survey of the retrospective. "You could just keep on going to introspection," she laughs.

Darragh says her recent shift into making objects, rather than appropriating them, is a result of the changing nature of second-hand goods.

"I think that is happening because I can't find as many things. Where there used to be a second-hand shop, it's now a $2 shop, and the Sally Army shops are disappearing and there's this big plastic cargo cult stuff coming in from China.

"Even going to garage sales and flea markets, there is less and less second-hand stuff, there's more and more imported stuff."

As well as the excess of cheaply manufactured goods, Darragh has also found that the second-hand market she once presided over is becoming increasingly contested by a growing collectable market.

"With things like Trade Me, people are becoming more aware of the value of things," she says.

Having to shift to plastic disposable goods rather than more enduring recycled objects has meant that Darragh has had to reconsider her approach to collecting materials.

"It is different currency because it's a new object - it's problematic. I really like using found objects because they had a life - there was a sense that someone had owned them and they already had a life before I rescued them."

Having established a reputation for her use of garishly coloured kitsch collections, in the late-90s she began reducing her palette and working with two-dimensional images.

"It was sort of a little exercise that I did because there was a lot of expectation ... it's going to be bright and it's going to be this and it's going to be that and I went, 'Nah, I'm going to make it everything else; 2-D, black-and-white and flat.'

"It's also quite formulaic, those three elements. It was like disciplining myself, I think. And it was good to go through that process because then I thought, 'I do want to bring colour back in and I will bring the form back in'."

Darragh's latest works, including a large installation just completed for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, are made from expanding foam, a found material that doesn't have a predetermined form.

"It's pretty predictable so I let it do what it needs to do. There's not much intervention with it, actually. I know what I want it to look like and I can just keep adding more, cutting or whatever."

Darragh also likes the fact that expanding foam is toxic and oozy, like a viral spreading idea. Much like the proliferation of cheap goods.

"It's interesting that in nature you can only find really bright, bright toxic colours either at the bottom of the sea - in corals - or in alpines. Nature's toxic colours exist at these two extremes, not in the middle, and that's probably why we create them.

"And it's also the colour of manufacturing, that toxic colour - it has to be manufactured."

* What: Selected Works Selected by Judy Darragh

* Where and when: Roger Williams Contemporary, 61 Randolph St, Newton, to June 17