Building on its mission to pair St. Louis-area artists with out-of-town talent, Duet, a new nonprofit gallery in Grand Center, presents the works of New York-based photographer Yamini Nayar with local sculptor Jerry Monteith.
At first glance, the two artists chosen for the gallery's sophomore show don't appear to have much in common. Nayar, whose work hovers somewhere between sculpture, photography and collage, creates disorienting images of quasi-architectural interiors. Meanwhile, Monteith, a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, draws inspiration from the natural world, crafting a series of obsessively detailed micro-sculptures reminiscent of fly-fishing lures.
Spend a little time at the gallery's ground-level space, however, and the artists' work begins to reveal its common language: Namely, both are utilizing objects they have scavenged — from her neighborhood in the case of Nayar; from his studio in the case of Monteith — transforming them into new and surprising sculptural forms.
Monteith, who often works on a larger scale, here uses an assortment of copper wire, yarn, wood, safety pins, feathers and foam to create Attractors, his series of minutely rendered fantastical entomological forms. Organized by Duet's director, Daniel McGrath, the exhibition presents Monteith's work on three specially constructed tables, the surfaces of which are reminiscent of still pools of water, as though Monteith's buglike forms were skimming across the surface.
The most successful of these works — there are more than 50 of them total — take an abstract approach to their subject, more suggesting a fantastical new creature than trying to create one in all its anatomical precision. In one, a bouquet of eraser-shaped pieces of gray foam indicate an entomological abdomen, which is set off by a bloom of spindly purple feathers from a menacing stinger wrapped in red yarn. In another, diamond-shaped pieces of blue foam indicate the body of a dragonfly-like creature, whose "wings" are wrapped in copper wire with tufted feathers at their termini. Less successful are those works that try wholly to imagine a new species — a quadruped with a thornlike tail, feathered crest and metal eyes becomes a bit cartoonish, or an arachnid so literal it could be from a mockup for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.
Nayar's work, by contrast, gives the viewer very few points of reference. Blurring the line between mediums, the artist uses found objects to construct ambiguously architectural models in her studio. After photographing these structures from various angles and states of completion, she then uses the earlier images to create assemblages of interiors that are perplexing in perspective and undefined in context. They also have an undeniable eye toward desuetude and ruin. Accentuating this tension in her work between sculpture and photography, Nayar then destroys the original model, leaving only the multivalent two-dimensional image.
In the asymmetrical diptych Untitled (Chrysalis), for instance, the larger image shows what appear to be the steel girders of a decrepit building frame in the image's upper portion. The frame is shown from below, but the lower section of the image quickly becomes disorienting, with a trapezoidal wall of roughly applied black paint filling its right portion and a roughly constructed pillar of what appears to be photographs rising from its base. Meanwhile, the diptych's smaller image is near painterly, presenting a dynamic collection of forms that may be scraps (or maybe paintings) of plank wood, salvaged architectural details, exposed swathes of ancient wallpaper, or perhaps a painter's canvas. In another work, On Form and Growth, a series of five photographs that re-create the destruction of a Frank Lloyd Wright house, Nayar uses multiple embedded images of the home's rubble-strewn interior to create a dislocated diorama.
While the idea of an artist creating works from their scraps is hardly groundbreaking, the show's pairing and formal presentation of these two practices makes for an engaging show, one that highlights points of divergence and confluence between these two very different artists.