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Whatever You Do, Definitely Do Go in the Basement of This Art Show

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Yamini Nayar, 'If stone could give,' installation view, Gallery Wendi Norris Offsite, 3344 24th Street, San Francisco. (Photo: John Wilson White / Studio Phocasso)

In October of 2017, San Francisco gallerist Wendi Norris announced she’d be giving up her eponymous downtown gallery space of eight years to “activate underutilized spaces around the world by using them to present audacious art shows.” The premise being: Why continue to host exhibitions on a near-monthly basis in the same white cube when sales weren’t coming from those exhibitions—and when a particular artist’s work might be best suited to an entirely different physical space or audience?

rethinking traditional models

It’s a bit like site-specificity, but the other way around. Instead of an artist making work for a specific “underutilized space,” Gallery Wendi Norris now finds a venue for an artist’s body of work, which is what brings a show by Brooklyn-based photographer Yamini Nayar to the Mission district corner of 24th Street and Bartlett.

If stone could give, the artist’s first exhibition with the gallery, occupies the street level and basement of 3344 24th Street, formerly home to Campfire Gallery, which closed in January 2017 after four years in the space. Since then, the storefront has remained empty. Underutilized, check. But is it truly “audacious” to install an exhibition in a former gallery space, on a corner where passersby are already used to glimpsing art?

Yamini Nayar, 'Silhouette,' 2018.
Yamini Nayar, ‘Silhouette,’ 2018. (Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Wendi Norris)

Nayar’s works are unframed medium-to-large pigment prints, jewel-toned images made by photographing sculptural arrangements of wood, cardboard, string, cut paper and photographs assembled in the artist’s studio. Once captured, the sculptures are disassembled and the elements repurposed, calling to mind Thomas Demand’s paper constructions, tableaux made to be seen only through a camera’s lens.


But unlike Demand’s precise, often uncannily realistic constructions, Nayar’s photographs play with dimension via a rough-edged, DIY modernism. In Modular Projection, a pattern of red-and-blue pointed ovals from Le Corbusier’s “Modulor Man,” the modernist architect’s proportional system, appears projected over Nayar’s stair-like assemblage (hung, with a wink, over the stairs).

This is the closest the upstairs space gets to reflecting back on specific images in Nayar’s prints. There’s nothing inherently different about 3344 24th from any other Mission gallery (though those are increasingly few)—two bay windows, white walls, a painted gray floor—making the staging of Nayar’s work nonspecific as well. But down that narrow flight of stairs into what would traditionally be a storage basement, the architectural elements of the site reveal themselves a fitting backdrop to Nayar’s own ad hoc arrangements.

Added to as needed over the years (the building dates back to 1924), the basement of 3344 24th has all the hallmarks of older San Francisco structures: mismatched wood scraps, remnants of old businesses and services clinging to those wood scraps, low ceilings, stairs to nowhere, a slight chill emanating from the concrete floor. (I spent four years living in what was essentially a Bernal Heights garage; the basement of 3344 24th is eerily familiar.)

Yamini Nayar, 'If stone could give,' installation view, Gallery Wendi Norris Offsite, 3344 24th Street, San Francisco.
Yamini Nayar, ‘If stone could give,’ installation view, Gallery Wendi Norris Offsite, 3344 24th Street, San Francisco. (Photo: John Wilson White / Studio Phocasso)

Downstairs, Nayar’s photographs are in their element. Build as if Stone, the largest print in the down below, hangs from the ceiling courtesy of a pair of two-by-fours, the entire support apparatus visible from the back. To the left, on a bare concrete wall, hangs Machine Living (another probable Corbusier reference—he wrote, “A house is a machine for living in”), a cinematic ratio-ed print full of wood and metal. The basement is not a sleek gallery space. Photographs are lit by utilitarian clamp lights, mimicking some of the Nayar’s own lighting techniques.

But even if Wendi Norris has left behind the comfort of Jessie Street for the (temporary) rawness of subterranean 24th, there’s still a pair of cushy chairs and a design-y lamp downstairs to remind viewers this is, after all, an art show. If stone could give presents Nayar’s work in what amounts to two different settings—white-walled gallery and funky project space—as if to say there’s a gritty authenticity here, but this work will still look darn good in your living room.

‘If stone could give’ is on view at 3344 24th Street through March 30, 2019. Details here.

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