New York

Garnett Puett

Curt Marcus Gallery

Garnett Puett works with swarms of bees, and while there’s no moniker to credit their participation, the insects’ “decisions” play a crucial part in this diabolically pretty art. For most of these works, the artist lathered wax onto various found objects—discarded machine parts, a can full of forgotten rulers and paintbrushes, an old rifle case—then used sugar water to draw the queen bee to them. The bees were allowed to feast on the wax, and to construct hives in their choice of the object’s crannies. When Puett liked the results, the bees were smoked out. Displayed under tall Plexiglas domes, these works show an affinity with the deliberate, poetic sculptures of Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, though they seem more alien and cantankerous.

Half of the show was given over to figurative sculptures, which included an almost lifesize female figure with her hands locked behind her head wearing a kind of honeycomb train, and a stack of cast-beeswax heads bearing forms that resemble extraordinary veils, beards, and/or punk hairdos. These pieces are particularly affecting, expressing a curious melancholy while calling to mind the half-human, half-plant pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Puett’s titles—Sister, 1988, The Duchess of Windsor, 1988—seem just right: puzzling, modest, eerie, oddly sentimental.

The show’s centerpiece was a work-in-progress, Motor Table. In a coffinlike case, bees flitted between a thick foundation of brown wax and a beautiful found metal-and-wood frame, building a dark wet comb in the shelter of the frame’s curves. A steady stream of bees trailed back and forth down a clear tube connected to the gallery’s windows. This quasi-instructional piece gave the exhibition the look of one of those small museums set along the roadsides of the American South. It had a quaintness reinforced by the display cases themselves. With their homey, bell-jar shapes, they could just as easily have been cases for wigs or wedding cakes, or kernels from the world’s biggest corn cob. Whether or not Puett is conversant with mainstream contemporary issues such as commodity fetishism and the poetry of the functional, his work seems to be. What’s important is, these issues haven’t consumed him. His work has not become their pod.

Dennis Cooper