Strolling through artist Gary Greenberg’s “THINGS RE: Stuff” exhibit at the Lord Hall Gallery, one might be taken off-guard by the highly eclectic and somewhat unconventional collection of
ceramic pieces on display. When first entering the exhibit, visitors will be greeted by a skull and crossbones atop an 8-ball that is adorned with a party hat. Continue around the corner, and find a leather suitcase filled with a passport, various travel items and a ceramic bomb.
“It’s not something one might expect to see in a gallery if they are looking for art to be pretty,” Greenberg said, “but if they are looking for something that is a take on things, and my take on things and the things that influence me, then that’s what they’ll find if they take the time to look.”
Laurie Hick, curator of the Lord Hall Gallery and professor of art at the University of Maine, describes Greenberg’s work as “politically charged,” which has a subtle layering of humor, politics, and social commentary. “It embraces all of the aspects of life, including death,” Hicks said.
One of the larger pieces in the gallery depicts a bust sculpture of a skeleton-esque “Uncle Sam” atop a podium that is entitled “Circus Politician.” The sculpture is paired with a ceramic ballot box on one side and a bag of cash on the other. While initially pieces like this may appear random and slightly eerie, a further understanding of Greenberg as an artist and an individual allows onlookers a glimpse of the political and socioeconomic significance that lies beneath the surface of his work. “[Greenberg] plays on all sorts of different aspect of being human. But it has multiple layers, which makes it purely accessible regardless of your position on politics,” Hicks said.
One piece — named “Huevos con Pollo” — depicts a ceramic chicken laying eggs beneath a light inside a small wire cage. What viewers may not initially realize about the piece is that it is also a decanter set. The eggs in the cage double as shot glasses, while the chicken is a liquor decanter. Greenberg, who has been a vegetarian for almost fifty years, uses his work to materialize the mistreatment of poultry while simultaneously allowing his work to be humorous and hold a dual purpose.
“This is one of the most diverse and different shows I’ve seen here,” Sadie Personeni, student intern of the Lord Hall Gallery, said. “I’ve never seen a show of just ceramics here before so I’m very impressed with how he fills the space. The gallery just looks transformed.” Personeni, who is an art major herself, describes the work as beautiful yet “jarring.”
Meeting Greenberg in person, one is immediately able to grasp a deeper understanding of the quirky and humorous depth of his work, as the artist’s personality rightly matches. Hearing Greenberg describe and explain his work in person helps one to gain a deeper understanding of his artistic thought process, as well as his overarching views on life and politics, which takes away the initial randomness one might see in his work.
Greenberg describes his creative process as chaotic. “Sometimes a specific thing will inspire a piece. Sometimes specific ideas that are floating around in the back of my head for a long time come together. Sometimes really simple things drive it.”
Matt Oberholtzer, a third-year biochemistry major at the University of Maine, heard about the exhibit in his ceramics class. “The things he expresses through some of his pieces are really visceral — things like death, politics, and alcohol.”
Greenberg shoots for a more distressed look with all of his work “like my life,” the artist joked. “I want them all to have a distressed look in terms of wear and tear. Like there is a implied legitimacy to the piece.” Greenberg believes that with a more aged appearance, people tend to accept the work’s legitimacy. “Shiny and new isn’t my favorite thing,” he said.