Art beat // Art and object in conversation

EAST HARRIET — Diane Arbus’ 1967 portrait of twin girls — pale-eyed brunettes in black velvet dresses and white stockings, one smiling, the other wary looking — is an iconic image.

Its lesser-known inspiration is “Country Girls,” a 1925 double portrait by German photographer August Sander. Sander’s “girls” are really young women, but they, too, stand side-by-side in dark dresses, barely holding hands, and the differences in their bodies and expressions transmit the same subtle tension.

The Weinstein Gallery has placed its large print of “Country Girls” next to a pair of foot-high ibeji statuettes. The carved wooden figures are produced by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, who have an unusually high rate of twin births.

The grinning ibeji, with their large, fin-shaped headdresses and distorted proportions, infect the viewer’s perception of “Country Girls.” Both sets of twins come off seeming otherworldly.

In “Art & Object,” the Weinstein Gallery has taken the recipe for a successful dinner party and applied it to the gallery: invite a diverse array of interesting guests, mix up the seating arrangement and hope for interesting conversation.

The guest list for this party includes a nearly equal mix of artists and objects from Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Americas collected over the past several years in anticipation of this show. As with any party, some guests hit it off right away, while others pass the time with polite small talk.

The Weinstein Gallery’s recent addition — a third room increasing the floor space by roughly 50 percent — is taken over by Robert Polidori’s large-scale photographs documenting ongoing restoration efforts at the sprawling Versailles palace in France.

Polidori captures the incongruity of 17th-century luxury crisscrossed with electrical extension cords. Marie Antoinette’s surprisingly small bed is pushed against a tarnished mirror and covered in a protective layer of plastic sheeting.

The enormous photographs — many measure more than 3 feet by 4 feet — reward close inspection. A photo of Louise XV’s library reveals just why the renovation is necessary: There are gaps where molding covered in gold leaf is pulling away from the walls.

These images mingle with a 1,500-year-old ceramic horse from the Chinese Sui Dynasty whose yellow, red and green pigments have faded to pastels. An even older Han Dynasty clay figure of a society woman bears only faint traces of gray and pink pigment, as well as arched eyebrows that hint at a hard-to-read expression.

What are they talking about
in here?

Oh, the glory days, probably. Or the inevitability that dynasties will fall and empires crumble.

There is no object in the gallery that can equal the eerie presence of a head and torso carved in wood from colonial-era Ecuador. It’s unclear who it is meant to represent, but the focused compassion in its stare argues strongly that it was a religious icon.

The androgynous, child-like figure has large, piercing blue eyes that remain surprisingly vibrant after 300 years. While the cheeks and lips also retain a delicate pink flush, the rest of the figure is stained with a brown patina, pockmarked and worn.

Nearby, the brothers Mike and Doug Starn seem to be exploring processes of disintegration in their digital print built on photographs of dead leaves. The leaves are set against a backdrop of blinding, obliterating light, as if they are disappearing in a slow but intense fire.

There are more playful pairings in the show, as with a two charcoal drawings by Honda Takeshi flanking a pre-colonial Costa Rican stone sculpture of a smoking man.

Takeshi covers the paper in black to depict the night sky, leaving only pinpricks of starlight and a shimmering moon. The stone man sits between them puffing away as he ponders the vastness of space.

The Minnesota photographer Alec Soth shoots Natalie, an elfin-faced model, before and after she hits the runway for a Paris fashion show. The large head-and-shoulders portrait is so detailed you can see the clumps of mascara clinging to Natalie’s eyelashes, as well as the bit of goo near her tear duct in the before shot.

In the after shot, a black lace neckline has replaced her green tank top straps, and she wears a crown of silver flowers and dangling ornaments. This portrait hangs near a traditional facemask from the Ivory Coast ringed with a sunburst pattern of wooden spikes.

Both high fashion in their time, undoubtedly.

If there is one knockout piece in the show, it’s Polidori’s humongous and richly detailed photograph of a crowded hillside neighborhood in Amman, Jordan.

House after block-shaped house, almost all formed from the same dull concrete, climb toward the sky. The rocky slope seems ready to crumble under the weight of humanity massed on top of it.

In this case, the dialogue between art and object seems beside the point. Polidori’s photograph has so much to say, nobody could get a word in edgewise.

“Art & Object” runs through April 25 at Weinstein Gallery, 908 W. 46th St. 822-1722.
weinstein-gallery.com.