In art that typically takes the human body as its point of departure, Nairy Baghramian grapples with the fundamental questions of plastic art, although her sculptures and installations propose a pointed antithesis to the traditional conception of the genre. Her formal idiom, choice of materials, and approach have as much in common with post-minimalism as with conceptual art; the artist harnesses the potential of abstraction to address complex sets of questions and frame a suitable response in terms of aesthetic form, forging what Baghramian herself has described as “ambivalent abstraction.” Her works interrogate political and social power structures, weaving together themes in art history and literature as well as references to fashion, architecture, and interior design.
Her sculptural creations for interior as well as exterior settings often consist of multiple elements and disparate materials such as aluminum, glass, pigmented wax, marble, porcelain, styrofoam, epoxy resin, and paint. Organic shapes that are densely packed or imbricated, that buttress, support, or lean on one another subtly yet unmistakably evince their mutual dependence. Props and clamps that hold the various elements together further underscore the objects’ “frailty,” reflecting the artist’s determination to reveal rather than try to conceal supposed flaws or defects. “My sculptures are supposed to help articulate the doubt concerning their viability.” This stance lays her works open to challenge and assault, while the auxiliary constructions also suggest their conceptual temporariness and alterability.
Baghramian’s installations and sculptures always engage with the architecture, history, and institutional context of the site for which they were created, though they retain a certain agility. In 2017, for example, she chose a highly prominent location for her contribution to Skulptur Projekte Münster: called Beliebte Stellen / Privileged Points, it occupied the forecourt of a baroque palace in the city’s center. In 1987, Richard Serra had installed a towering nineteen-foot-tall vertical steel structure on the same scene. Baghramian’s take on the setting stayed closer to the ground. Her bronze sculpture traced a delicate line, almost a doodle, that approximated an open horizontal circle. Though given a generous paint coat, it had a provisional air to it, propped up in no more than a few spots, its unwelded seams stapled together by visible brackets. The associated installation in another courtyard, meanwhile, consisted of loosely stacked elements treated only with primer that awaited assembly into two more sculptures in the series.
Another defining characteristic of her works is that they tend to inscribe themselves in an environment or to mark a particular point in it rather than to dominate the space around them; others, lingering in a seemingly unfinished state, indicate that their presence in a given place is merely temporary. In making sculptures that often appear fragile, in need of support, dependent, Baghramian always also takes a stand against the conventional (masculine) pose of self-confidence, the dominant creative gesture and its claim to perpetual validity.