An artist's life in storage; an artist's practice of holding or discarding works of their own and others, teaches us about who they are as artists and what and who they value as influences. In the case of Barbara T. Smith, one sees both her support of friends whose works she admired and appreciated, and the dedication to safeguarding her own works, as a means to tell their story and create her legacy. In some cases she has stored these works for over 50 years.
This exhibition, Treasures, will be a presentation of the work of Barbara T. Smith and over twenty other artists whose work she has in her personal collection. The idea of this show came together as Smith and The Box were working together to organize her Artist Estate, realizing how many fantastic works she has been collecting: by trading/exchanging with her own work, buying the artworks when she could afford to, storing pieces when others couldn’t, or when works were given to her as gifts. The majority of the works in the exhibition are from the 1960s and 1970s, and will range from large paintings to small mail art exchanges. Artists included are: C. Lewis Baltz, Chris Burden, James Lee Byers, Sister Mary Corita, John Duncan, Fred Eversley, Dr. Elsa Garmire, Phil Hefferton, George Herms, Channa Horwitz, Shiro Ikegawa, Daniel Larue Johnson, Kim Jones, Allan Kaprow, Dick Kilgroe, Fred Mason, Paul McCarthy, Karen Neubert, Michael Olidort, Bill Ransom, James Rosenquist, and Richard Rubenstein.
The work of George Herms included in the exhibition tells a story of support and friendship. The piece titled F from 1965, was one of a series of assemblages that he made while living on the property of Smith’s then home in Pasadena. This landmark Greene & Greene house, where she lived with her then husband Allen and their three children, had a garage apartment where they would house artists, many whom she met while working at the Pasadena Art Museum. George Herms was one of these artists, and as a means to financially support him, they acquired this work which he had informally installed on the side of the garage. It's a fantastic example of Herm's grimey appealing wall works, including a baby doll and used paint brushes.
As a comparative story, we will be showing a unique early sculpture of Barbara T. Smith’s titled Night Stand from 1963. This piece gives a glimpse into her early life with her husband, and the erosion and death of her marriage. It includes a small blue bed stand holding a top surface with a constructed tableau that includes a miniature velvet coffin that opens up to a small doll with blue plastic wrapping around its head and black onyx beads. When recently unpacking this work Smith commented, “this is about the death of my marriage”. The harsh truth revealed that simultaneous to Smith’s development as an artist came the end of her marriage. Coming from a family of morticians, Smith was surrounded by death, its aesthetics, and the psychological associations that might entail. The implications of which are seen in both this work and her other performances, one of which is included in the exhibition titled Piercing the Corporate Veil, 1980.
This collection of works presents the artist as witness to her community, herself, and practice. One comes away seeing a larger, more expansive understanding of how artists live, and gives us a glimpse into how Smith engaged with her artist community in genuine ways. To this day with Smith, going through the artworks of others one sees the memories flooding in, and her remembering these artists and her individual experiences with them. The deeply interpersonal revelations unearthed in this curated selection of pieces in Treasures will be many.