Ashtray is an exhibition juxtaposing a collection of mid-century modern ashtrays with works by three seemingly unrelated artists. Joanne Greenbaum, Ray Hamilton and Matthew Higgs deploy radically different conceptual and formal approaches in their art and on the surface, their work has nothing to do with ashtrays. This show is not about ashtrays, but includes ashtrays only as a MacGuffin, a plot device that Hitchcock used to motivate the characters, but had little other relevance to the story. Here the MacGuffin is used to reveal unspoken connections, real or imagined by the curator.
The free-wheeling Joanne Greenbaum makes exuberant, abstract paintings that develop both out of a methodical studio practice and a stream of consciousness. These small-scale, brightly colored paintings-made explicitly for this context-suggest improvisational systems and enact the process of their own making. A survey of her work will be mounted at the Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich in 2008 and travels to the Museum Abreiberg in Monchengladbach, Germany.
Ray Hamilton (1919-1996) created spare, unusually elegant watercolors with his opposite hand after suffering a stroke at age 70. Using subjects that were literally at hand--apples, bananas, raisin boxes, hands and feet--Hamilton marked time and space in colorful repetitive patterns on countless pads of paper from his chair at a nursing home. Hamilton's work is featured in the Abrams' book, How to Look At Outsider Art (2006) by Lyle Rexer.
Ashtray will include four of Matthew Higgs' signature book-page pieces made from the covers and title pages of second-hand books and catalogues sourced in antiquarian bookstores. These works function as small, minimal abstract paintings, confounding the roles of artist, curator and collector. Higgs' work can also be seen in a two-person show at UMass Amherst University Gallery titled Ex Libris though December 9, 2007.
The ceramic ashtrays--all made in United States, primarily by Haeger Pottery in the 1950s and 1960s--were collected by Kerry Schuss at the 26th Street Flea Market in New York between 1987-90.