The remains of designing days: The Katonah Museum of Art’s ‘Nest’

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even sentimental fleas do it.

You get the idea: Nature loves to nest. And not just so its various species can raise the young’uns. The male bowerbird, seen in a recent episode of PBS’ “Nature” called “Natural Born Hustlers,” builds elaborate twig bowers resembling arcades or maypoles that are filled with stones, shells and blueberries arranged in optical illusions just to attract the female. Talk about your courtship.

But we digress. First comes love, then comes marriage. Then comes “The Nest,” the title of a new exhibit at the Katonah Museum of Art (March 6 to June 19) that explores the bird’s nest as a metaphor for home, art and design itself.

Some of the 15 works in various media — representing 10 artists from the United States, Germany and South Africa — interpret that title quite literally. Björn Braun “collaborates” with a pair of zebra finches that he has raised to reproduce a zebra finch’s nest in coconut fiber, plastic and tinsel in “Untitled” (2015). Judy Pfaff ’s “Time Is Another River” (2012) goes Braun one better, creating a pretty, wreathlike nest of honeycomb, cardboard, expanded foam, plastics and fluorescent light that is redolent of nostalgia and suggests the ephemeral quality of nature and time itself.

One of the works isn’t a traditional nest at all.  Sanford Biggers’ “Baby Ghettobird Tunic” (2003 and ’06) is made of a bubble jacket and various bird feathers.

Another uses the nest to suggest the human capacity for physical and artistic creation. Paul Villinski’s “Self-Portrait” (2014) is a life-size man of steel filigree that evokes anatomy drawings. A bird’s nest lies at its core.

“Self-Portrait” plays with negative space as do other works in the exhibit, reminding us that “nest” is often modified by “empty.” David Wojnarowicz’s “Untitled (Hand holding nest)” is a 1988 silver print of two hands — one holding an empty nest and the other sporting bandages. Nina Katchadourian’s 2003 C-print “Too Late” captures the letters of those words written on seven eggs in a large nest. Have they been abandoned? Will they never hatch? Or is this just the artist’s mind game?

Dove Bradshaw also seems preoccupied by pain and loss. Her “Home” (2008) is an approximately 3-foot tall bush of honey locust thorns, while her “Nothing III, Series 2” (2004) is an 18-karat gold cast of a goose egg shell cracked open and devoid of its yolk. The sculpture plays with the Aesop fable of “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs,” a cautionary tale against greed. But we shouldn’t call it “Nothing.” The shell alone is worth its weight in gold. It’s something, as are the brains, talent and technique Bradshaw poured into the design.

And perhaps that is the overarching point of the show. When the chicks have flown the coop and it’s time to downsize the nest, you can still admire what you have wrought — and what remains.

For more, visit katonahmuseum.org.

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