Yamini Nayar

Being There; What is Essential | London, King Street | digital cibachrome print or archival paper | 50.8 x 61.3 cm. each

“[Nayar] works with installation, but translated into photographs: fantastic interiors that look both ruined and ethereal, as if winds, floods and fires had blown through them.”

Holland Cotter, in The New York Times

“The overwhelming experience of looking at Yamini Nayar’s photographs is that of mystification,” wrote Emily Hall for ArtForum in 2012, reviewing Nayar’s first New York solo show, “Head Space,” at Thomas Erben gallery: “One can look and still be puzzled.” Indeed, Nayar’s work is nothing if not disorienting: Photographic prints frame ruined, unstable architectural spaces. Mirrors, tiles, jagged objects and cutouts of other photographs fill the frame—pastiches that draw the viewer in to its myriad layers. Are we looking a small-scale diorama or a large room? Is the object in the frame a mirror or a portal into another space? Sometimes answers remain stubborn, resisting even the lengthiest look. 

Uniting the works is a sense of discomposure, of human spaces estranged from their former or would-be inhabitants. The decaying, ramshackle landscapes of her native Detroit were surely an influence, but there’s no sentimentality or schadenfreude; in staging these chaotic mises-en-scene, she dispassionately underscores the intentionality of human actions upon their environments. Neglect is a choice somewhere down the supply chain. Ruins don’t create themselves.

“Here space is radically compressed,” Daniel McGrath writes about her work in Art Papers. “Collage jarringly reverses figure and ground relationships. A paradoxical sense of order emerges from the otherwise unintelligible bric-a-brac.”

Nayar left Detroit to get her BFA at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1999. In 2005 she earned her MFA in photography and related media at the School of Visual Arts, in New York. She has earned several prestigious awards and residencies since then, including a residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace in 2011-12. In 2011, The Art Economist named her an “Artist to Watch,” commending her works’ “formal complexity and minute attention to details, as well as their ability to transmute abstracted installation into surreal landscape. […] They have been classified as both romantic and apocalyptic, and are widely recognized for their hypnotic, dreamlike quality.”

Her career, still young, is burgeoning. Before her 2011 solo show at Thomas Erben, she began gaining widespread critical attention from a two-person show there with Sheela Gowda, garnering praise in the The New Yorker, The New York Times and others.  Her work has appeared in numerous high-profile group shows, like the 2011 Sharjah Biennial, the “Empire Strikes Back” survey of contemporary Indian art at the Saatchi Gallery (London), in 2010, the 2010 New York Photography Festival, and at the Cincinnati Art Museum. She lives and works in Brooklyn.

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Works by Yamini Nayar

Specialists in South Asian Modern+Contemporary Art at Christie's

  • Deepanjana D. Klein PhD
    • South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art
    • New York
    • International Head of Department
    • dklein@christies.com
    • +1 212 636 2189
  • Sonal Singh

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