Nairy Baghramian. Misfits

By Bruna Roccasalva
Photos by Nicola Gnesi

The following is a revised version of the original text, published on the occasion of "Nairy Baghramian. Misfits "(GAM, Milan, 26 May - 26 September 2021), an exhibition project curated by Bruna Roccasalva, organized by the Furla Foundation and GAM - Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Milano, with the contribution of the Henraux Foundation for the production of works in marble. The exhibition is part of the "Furla Series", a program promoted by the Furla Foundation and created in collaboration with the most important Italian art institutions.

“What is sculpture? What is the burden of sculpture? What is the power of a sculpture occupying a site? Those are all problems that I’ve had with sculpture and that keeps me doing sculpture.” 

Nairy Baghramian, “Ambivalent Abstraction”, Ocula, 
August 28, 2020
For two decades Nairy Baghramian has been carrying out rigorous formal and conceptual research that questions the very definition of sculpture, starting from a practice deeply rooted in the sculptural tradition. That of exploring the relationships between architecture, object and the human body, her production confirms the importance of the physicality of a work, capable of embodying theoretical ideas and assumptions through the specific formal, material and exhibition traits that distinguish it. Her work represents one of the most important contributions to contemporary experiments with the language of sculpture and the "Misfits" project summarizes some of the key elements, from the interest in traversing and rethinking the boundary between inside and outside, to an analysis of the relationships that bind the aesthetic object to the institutional framework that hosts it.

For Baghramian every work of art, despite its substantial autonomy, has a link to the time, place and political-social fabric in which it has been inserted, and the idea of "Misfits" arises precisely from the specific urban context in which it is located: The museum hosting the project. The neoclassical architecture of Villa Reale, where the GAM is based, overlooks a beautiful English garden, one of the first examples created in Milan, which has the distinction of being accessible to adults only if accompanied by children.

The conflicting suggestions aroused by a context that refers to a protected and playful universe as that which belongs to children, but which at the same time generates a sense of frustration for the restrictions on its accessibility, were the prerequisites for the conception of "Misfits". Hybridizing the idea of play as an educational device with a reflection on the experience of disappointment and inadequacy, Baghramian has created a series of large sculptures formally conceived to inhabit both the internal and external spaces of the museum.
Inside, the exhibition has been divided into five rooms, each of which houses a sculptural element. The works discreetly inhabit the rooms, according to a deliberately rarefied arrangement exasperated by the artist's choice to create a moment of "interruption" in the exhibition itinerary. In fact, the exhibition continues on the terrace adjacent to the rooms, which the visitor can observe through the windows or from the garden, but only in compliance with the rules governing access. There are also five sculptural elements on the terrace, positioned in correspondence with those that occupy the rooms inside the museum.

Each of the works on display consists of two halves, made with different materials - cast aluminium and wood for the elements found inside, marble for those outside - and installed as if they were disjointed parts of a possible whole. Forever interested in exploring the relationship between internal and external - the institution and the socio-cultural context in which it is located; the work and the space that hosts it; the idea and the form that gives it body -, Baghramian intervenes on the spaces that mark boundaries to cross them and rethink them. For the artist, these interspaces are areas of reflection in which to raise doubts and ask questions: separating opposites, rather than trying to make them match, is equivalent to questioning everything between these two extremes, and therefore to undermine any fixed ideas and pre-established rules. The partial dislocation of each sculpture outside the museum halls creates osmosis between the space dedicated to art and a public park whose main users are children. The decomposed elements of these sculptures seem to evoke the typical structure of playful objects based on the interlocking of geometric shapes. From childhood, we are educated to assemble elements with perfect joints and thus to develop a model of thought according to which everything must necessarily match another. Baghramian's sculptures deny this supposed coincidence: their shapes do not fit together perfectly, but on the contrary, they offer the experience of error as the only possible one, inviting us to discover beauty precisely in their imperfect juxtapositioning.

The choice of materials, or how they are treated, contribute to the return of this experience. Knowing deeply the nature of materials and testing their potential is a fundamental aspect of Baghramian's sculptural practice. This approach often results in an experimentation of unusual combinations of very different materials within the same work, which also happens in the sculptures on display, that combine enamelled aluminium and wood castings with marble of different natures and origins, marble such as the Statuary Altissimo and Versilys Altissimo, extracted from the Henraux quarries, and Rosa Norway, Rosa California and Costa Smeralda, which have been specially imported. Aluminium is often used in the artist's production, but here how the surfaces have been treated is completely new. The rigour and precision of an industrial finish, reminiscent of the Minimalist tradition, gives way to a painterly attitude, which allows for the imperfection or smudging of the "handmade".
The production of "Misfits" also coincided for the artist with the unique opportunity to approach a traditional material such as marble for the first time. Baghramian always works by relating closely to the context in which she finds herself and using a specific material does not only mean having to contend with the physical qualities that distinguish it but also with the memory, history and politics that are part of it, integral with the material itself.
Making an exhibition in Italy was therefore a perfect opportunity to approach a material that belongs to our cultural heritage. Visiting the quarries of Monte Altissimo, whose marbles are famous all over the world, and coming into contact with the local workers who have a centuries-old experience on the process of extraction and processing of this material, was for Baghramian a unique and source of great inspiration and the choice to use it for a project like “Misfits” was anything but casual. Using a noble material such as marble, which has always been a symbol of completeness and perfection, to give sculptural form to imperfection, Baghramian calls into question every pre-established idea of beauty and form, suggesting that sculpture should also have “the possibility of not satisfying expectations".

The sculptures of "Misfits", their forms with imperfect joints are not based on pre-established and generalized aesthetic canons, they contemplate the possibility of error, inadequacy and imperfection and reveal their beauty, demonstrating how these experiences, which make part of the formation of each individual, can also have an autonomous raison d'etre as formal manifestations.

Scroll Down
Back to the Top