For North America's first exposure to the art of Nairy Baghramian the Contemporary Art Gallery has chosen Class Reunion (2008), a collection of eighteen individual sculptures made of cast rubber, metal, and epoxy resin that are witty and intelligent. Reminiscent of early to mid-century Modernism (with a nostalgic tip of the hat to sculptors like Noguchi and Arp) it is equally reminiscent of that outdated vision of the future that tends to black and white biomorphic abstraction in design (Woody Allen's "Sleeper" for example).
By the ensemble's title (and the titles of the individual sculptures) we are encouraged to see the gathering as a quirky cast of characters. Baghramian succeeds in engendering her forms with personality through precise and elegant formal decisions including the elimination of almost any regularity of outline. Bulbous upper portions of sculptures are smooth and glossy, with slender lower portions that swell and taper, terminating in feet or flat plates, some of which support or are surrounded by slabs of translucent blackish, purplish rubber that look like jello. Other sculptures are irregularly cut and folded plate metal.
It is interesting how naturally and definitively we as sentient beings associate form with personality. A straight line is serious; a diagonal less so; and a curving loop the loop humorous. Considering balance, symmetry is serious, asymmetry not (Part of the joy of Laurel and Hardy).
By their distribution we are encouraged to form a narrative: For instance, a husband, "Slacker 1" (the only piece without a rigid armature), lays drunk on the floor. Standing nearby his wife, "Flamingo," blushes pink. "Knucklehead Hither," the AWOL appendage from Gogol's The Nose, scurries past. And leaning in the corner distinct from all the others by amongst other things its symmetry and enclosed volume is "Tomcat," the petulant loner.
Given her attention to detail in form, Baghramian has been surprisingly casual in fabrication and upkeep. Cast forms are pitted and chipped, there are cracks and sags in painted surfaces, and what look like ill considered gaps at joints where sections meet. An explanation may be in the gallery notes which say that like much of Baghramian's other work, Class Reunion comments "on current issues of materiality, manufacture and display while examining aspects of social and political relationships." May be, but sometimes, rather than engage in conversation, it's a lot more fun to sit on the couch and make up stories about the guests.
First published in Canadian Art http://www.canadianart.ca/reviews/2013/01/09/nairy-baghramian-cag/