Nasher Sculpture Center announces Nairy Baghramian as winner of the 2022 Nasher Prize
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Nasher Sculpture Center announces Nairy Baghramian as winner of the 2022 Nasher Prize
Nairy Baghramian, Fluffing the Pillows D (Silos, Gurney), 2013. Fabric, rubber, pleather, hemp rope, chromed pole. Silo ½: 15 3/4 x 32 11/16 x 120 1/8 in. (40 x 83 x 305 cm); Silo 2/2: 15 x 106 5/16 x 13 3/4 in. (38 x 270 x 35 cm); Gurney: 3 1/8 x 92 1/2 x 23 5/8 in. (8 x 235 x 60 cm) Photo: Timo Ohler.

DALLAS, TX.- The Nasher Sculpture Center announces Nairy Baghramian as the recipient of the 2022 Nasher Prize. Now in its sixth year, the Nasher Prize is an international award for sculpture, established to honor a living artist who elevates the understanding of sculpture and its possibilities. Baghramian will be presented with an award designed by Renzo Piano, architect of the Nasher Sculpture Center, at a ceremony in Dallas on April 2, 2022.

The 2022 Nasher Prize Laureate Nairy Baghramian takes the creation and presentation of sculpture as her de facto subject yet makes works highlighting the poignant, contradictory, and sometimes humorous circumstances that can suffuse both the artistic process as well as everyday life. Over the past three decades, she has explored elements of sculptural practice and installation to create works that challenge their settings and upend expected modes of presentation as well as the architectural, sociological, political, and historical contexts that inform them.

The Nasher Prize jury deliberated virtually in June 2021 to determine the 2022 laureate, under the grip of a global pandemic and after a year of social distancing.

“This year, after a prolonged time of separation from people and places during the pandemic, the work of Nairy Baghramian stood out to the jury as exemplary for its consideration of the body, human relationship, and the built environment through sculpture that champions the often-overlooked objects, people, and experiences at play in daily life,” says Nasher Director Jeremy Strick.

“Baghramian’s visual language is rooted in traditions of sculptural form and shape,” says Nasher Prize juror, artist Phyllida Barlow, “but she transforms those traditions into profoundly personal relationships with diverse references—from the architectural to the anthropomorphic—where curvaceous, stretched, folded forms compete with linear structures, all delivered with Baghramian’s intensely researched and deft technical and material innovations.”

Baghramian has explored the relation of modeling, molding, and casting—interrelated elements of sculpture production involving positive and negative forms—throughout her career, and she consistently humanizes this largely mechanical process through overt or oblique references to the body. Using an abstract vocabulary that often combines geometric and organic forms, as well as industrial materials and processes with elements that appear soft and supple, Baghramian highlights the subtle ligatures uniting disparate human activities.

In the 2012 installation Retainer, Baghramian erected a semi-circular phalanx of barriers in the gallery, partially surrounding the viewer—impeding movement through the space even as it offered a kind of embrace. As suggested by its title, Retainer’s amoeboid shields of cast silicone and polycarbonate, mounted on thin, polished aluminum supports recall the transparent plastic and wires of orthodontic apparatuses. Baghramian elaborates these motifs in the series Scruff of the Neck from 2016, with more overt evocations of dental forms. Likewise, her recent work, Knee and Elbow, commissioned for the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA, in 2020, suggests a monument to parts of the body that bend and often fail: arches formed of large sections of pink and white marble connected with polished stainless-steel fittings like enormous bones sutured back together with medical-grade steel pins.

Baghramian’s sculptures often rely on external supports, architecture, or each other for their stability; in doing so, they frequently suggest parallels with the body’s own interior architecture, such as the mouth and the skull. The Dwindlers comprise curved sections of cast glass held in place by rough, zincked-metal supports bolted to the gallery wall, encapsulating space in segmented runs through a room, even across doorways. The works suggest not only deteriorating ducts or chutes, but also intestinal passages or prostheses, lending the industrial associations a vulnerability not normally ascribed to them.

While much of Baghramian’s work involves a critical engagement with architecture and obdurately obstructing passages, certain sculptures register more subtly, although they antagonize and complicate prescribed art spaces and viewers’ expectations in equal measure. Such works fail to quite arrive at appearing as sculpture, instead teetering between identities and delivering a confounding set of visual cues. Peeper (2016), for example, comprises thick metal wire outfitted along its length with blue rubber washers and secured to an orange clamp anchored to the wall. When installed at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 2017, Baghramian left one end of the long metal cord on the ground, flaccid and untethered from a second anchor on the adjacent wall, on the other side of a doorway, to which it should presumably have been fastened. This gave the impression that a barricade had been breached and the gallery unlawfully entered, creating an unsettling ambiguity for the viewer about Peeper's status as art and rendering the entrance into the gallery an experience of possible trespass, much as the sculpture’s title suggests. As Phyllida Barlow notes: “An encounter with Baghramian’s sculpture is to discover how the work’s occupation of space challenges the space the viewer occupies. There is a bodily, visceral clash between the viewer and the sculpture.”

Other works, most notably the series called Stay Downers, references a different realm of ineptitude, illicitness, or abjection. Though appearing formally resolved, these polyurethane and silicone forms’ German title Sitzengebliebene designates students who have been left back a grade in school. Individual works specify the exact nature of the problem, identifying with reductive labels those lowest on the adolescent social ladder: Nerd, Ugly Duckling, Malingerer, Babbler, Truant. The clusters of sculptures—thick, interlocking blobs or narrow, irregular oblongs in pastels and fleshy tones—are often installed in hard-to-reach corners or shyly along the wall, a cohort of the rejected. The somewhat organic forms of the Stay Downers further play with notions of social rejection by recalling cast-off or expelled products of the body, implicitly suggesting a connection to the efforts of artists.

Her recent series Misfits, which was highlighted this past summer in exhibitions at Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan and the Paris branch of Marian Goodman Gallery, looks to children as another category of social outlier in a series of sculptures and photographs that consider the playground as a political space. Resembling interlocking children’s toys, the brightly colored sculptures suggest the capacity of toys to fit together—except closer inspection reveals that any sense of possible completion or tidiness in the objects is thwarted, and the playfulness the works seem to promise is unfulfilled. Further heightening the sense of refusal, in Milan Baghramian placed several sculptures outside on the terrace of the building with the mandate that only children and their caregivers were allowed to visit and interact with the works there, inverting the ubiquitous prejudice within art spaces against the young, and by extension, their parents. This reversal of the access paradigm makes the artist’s deep commitment to those without recognized social stature physically manifest.

In tandem with this transgressional affection for the overlooked are Baghramian’s collaborations with other women artists, most especially the late Swiss-French designer and artist, Janette Laverrière (1909–2011), with whom Baghramian worked for the 2008 Berlin Biennale 5. With considerations of private realms of domestic interior design, the duo created La Lampe d’Horloge (2008)—an architectural Plexiglas enclosure based on Laverrière’s Paris apartment that comprises several of the designer’s mirror sculptures and interior objects recontextualized in a form and frame designed by Baghramian. The work explored Baghramian’s deep interest in the binaries of interior/exterior, private/public, process/production, and feminine/masculine.

Baghramian is the sixth artist to receive the Nasher Prize; previous winners are Michael Rakowitz (2020-21), Isa Genzken (2019), Theaster Gates (2018), Pierre Huyghe (2017) and Doris Salcedo (2016). The 2022 Nasher Prize jury that selected Baghramian is comprised of David Adjaye, architect; Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Director of Castello di Rivoli, Italy; Phyllida Barlow, artist; Pablo León de la Barra, Curator at Large, Latin America, Guggenheim Museum; Lynne Cooke, Senior Curator, National Gallery of Art; Briony Fer, Professor, History of Art, University College London; Yuko Hasegawa, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; Hou Hanru, Artistic Director, MAXXI, Rome; and Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England.

The Nasher Prize Graduate Symposium—dedicated to the work of Baghramian and open to graduate students from around the world, studying in any field—will take place virtually from January 18 - 21, 2022. Presentation proposals will be accepted beginning September 20 through November 19. Students selected to participate will have their papers published in the annual Nasher Prize Graduate Student Symposium compendium which will be published in April 2022 in tandem with the award gala.

Nairy Baghramian is a German citizen born in 1971 in Iran. She is a visual artist living and working in Berlin since 1984. Her work has been the subject of monographic exhibitions in an array of institutions, including GAM, Galleria d'arte Moderna, Milan (2021); MUDAM, Luxembourg (2019); Festival d’ Automne á Paris at École des Beaux-Arts (2018); Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid (2018); SMK, Copenhagen (2017); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2016); S.M.A.K, Ghent (2016); Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2015); Museo Serralves, Porto (2014); the Art Institute of Chicago (2014); Serpentine Gallery with Phyllida Barlow (2010); Studio Voltaire London (2009); and Kunsthalle Basel (2006). Baghramian also participated at Venice Biennale (2019 and 2011); Yorkshire Sculpture International (2019); Documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens (2017); Skulptur Project Muenster (2017 and 2007); Lyon Biennale (2017); Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, Scotland (2012); and the Berlin Biennale, Germany (2014 and 2008).

Baghramian was a nominee of the Hugo Boss Prize 2020 and has been the recipient of the Malcolm-McLaren-Award with Maria Hassabi (2019); the Zurich Art Prize (2016); the Arnold-Bode Prize, Kassel (2014); the Hector Prize, Kunsthalle Mannheim (2012); and the Ernst Schering Foundation Award (2007). Her works are held in institutional collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Tate Modern, London; MUDAM, Luxembourg; Tamayo Museum, Mexico City; Jumex Museum, Mexico City; and the Art Institute of Chicago. Upcoming solo exhibitions of Nairy Baghramian include Secession, Vienna AT, 2021; and Carré d’Art, Nîmes, France, April 2022. Baghramian will be the subject of a long-planned solo exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center, unaffiliated with the Nasher Prize, in fall 2022.

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