In one of Fay Ray's dense, dazzling photomontages, carnations and crushed beer cans jostle against fur, abalone shells, strings of clear beads and a hand-modeled clay head.
That kind of disjunction harks back to the medium's heyday a century ago, as a Dada vehicle of the politically infused absurd. It works, visually.
Ray's montages at Shulamit Nazarian gallery are strikingly high contrast. Blacks go deep, serving as a kind of velvety jeweler's cloth, strewn with a pseudo-casual array of shiny, sparkly objects.
"Egg Arch and Pearl Portal" is the most arresting of the photo pieces. Scaled to human height and shaped like a passageway, the aluminum-mounted print beckons us inward, to a space at once cosmic and commercial, primal and performative. A mosaic circle vaguely suggestive of an ancient stone relic emits glittery beams of tinsel, striped with tresses. A giant pearl appears between floating lips, and more nacreous orbs separate the fingers of two hands that emerge from the darkness. Arching over all of this is a jaunty border of painted eggs — spotted, stained, or bearing the words "mercy mercy mercy."
Glitz and glamour pervade the montages as well as the sculptures on view here, and the L.A.-based Ray offsets this artifice with hints of authenticity. She hangs three gorgeous, fossil-like conch shells from aluminum struts fanning out from a zinc-plated chain in the strangely haunting "Calipatria." Other sculptures similarly mix slick slabs of marble and industrial-strength metals with chunks of cactus and ears of corn cast in aluminum.
Whatever her medium, Ray exercises a montage sensibility in this mixed bag of a show, constantly shifting material and emotional registers. Sometimes the compression of natural and denatured, earnest and superficial generates a curious, compelling friction. Just as often, though, it yields a less fruitful incoherence.
Shulamit Nazarian, 616 N. La Brea Ave., L.A. Through May 26; closed Sundays and Mondays. (310) 281-0961, www.shulamitnazarian.com