Critics’ Picks

View of “Compact,” 2012.


Manish Nai

Galerie Gebr. Lehmann | Berlin
Lindenstrasse 35
June 22–July 31

The title of Manish Nai’s current exhibition, “Compact,” couldn’t be more appropriate. The artist has managed to squeeze the colorful clothes of his wife, son, and other family members into seven small, seven-and-a-half-inch-square cubes. He has also compressed scrap aluminum into a small cube and into a piece resembling the shape of a canvas, and has crushed together dyed black jute to a similar canvaslike form. Amid all this crushing and condensing, Nai too has convincingly packed in many different artistic influences—from Donald Judd to Larry Bell to Piero Manzoni—while maintaining a link to his native India in an interesting way.

Nai’s works embrace the simple geometry and abstraction of Minimalism, but there is more to see in his objects than pure form. Untitled V, 2012, for example, with its bright red top and earthy pink bottom, interests us because it is a square block of colorful clothes, not because it is a square block—one is impressed more for its materials than for its shape. The artist has bound together jute, used clothes, newspapers, and other leftovers, in an abstractionist manner to highlight the surface and structure of the ingredients of the pieces.

The use of defamiliarized recycled materials ties Nai to the Arte Povera movement, and like Michelangelo Pistoletto’s sculptures, Nai’s work embraces nontraditional materials. But although Nai’s output also reflects an opposition to wasteful actions, his work is more concerned with process and experimentation than politics. He has transformed the ugliness that many of us might find in a pile of trash into dense, intimate expressions of the liveliness of material, transforming the familiar into the universal.