Nairy Baghramian was born in 1971 in Isfahan, Iran, and she lives and works in Berlin. Her exhibition “Es ist ausser Haus” (It is outside of the house) at the Kunsthalle Basel is the artist’s first solo show in a public institution. The works of Nairy Baghramian are complex mise-en-scenes including elements of re-worked furniture design, set design and fashion. Her still lives in space involve references to material history, re-contextualized and turned into political statement. Classic modernist objects of desire, vintage apparel and photographic prints are fixed in the order imposed by hard-edged frames. These hybrid constructions can be read as stand-ins for imaginary games of power, but also as conversation pieces referring to literature and theatre. The sparse graphic form and the geometry of Baghramian’s strangely corporeal sculptures generate captivating visual scenarios, a mechanical and optical ballet in which the gaze hits one scene after the other, directed by the prescribed movement of the viewer.
Baghramian is interested in eccentric and shadowy characters of modernity, such as the writer Jane Bowles or the designer Jean-Michel Frank. In Baghramian’s work, the reflection on the arcane visual and textual codes of modernity is projected back onto the seemingly very different realities of the Middle East, where Modernism seems at the moment to be just a bygone episode. The artist focuses in particular on the issues of emancipating gender discourse versus the currently dominant conservative and patriarchal politics in Baghramian’s native Iran and elsewhere.
“Es ist ausser Haus” is an installation involving mirror structures, photography and architecture, which gives a new definition to the two large spaces of the Kunsthalle by nesting on both sides of the wall that divides them. The works take control over the visitors’ gaze, offering a series of fixed vantage points from which to contemplate them, such as seats installed in doorways between the rooms.
Eccentric elegance, surface beauty and a stylistically confident choice of a wide range of different materials and colours characterise all works by Baghramian. Nevertheless, they never fail to convey an underlying critical and political attitude. Thus on the front wall of the last large room there is a photograph-sculpture: The colour photograph is exhibited behind glass and integrated into a concrete cuboid protruding from the wall. In the photograph, a magnificently furnished parlour can be seen with elegant red velvet couches and a small wooden table on which framed portraits of statesmen are displayed: a staged scene in a palace, Teheran 2005; supposed guest gifts to Reza Shah Pahlavi. The friendly innocence of the interior is only undermined when the beholder takes a closer look. For on the small table there is a collection of portraits which, among others, show Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Mao Zedong, Konrad Adenauer and Adolf Hitler side by side. By means of this combination of representatives of fundamentally different political ideologies, the artist questions the general construct of political truth claims.
Solo exhibitions (selection): 2005 ‘Die Geister mögen das Flanieren’, Galerie Christian Nagel, Cologne / 2004 ‘voluptuous panic’, Galerie Christian Nagel, Berlin
Group exhibitions (selection): 2006 ‘A Public Private Mystery Tour’, Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna / ‘Bonanza’, Tilton Gallery, New York / 2005/06 ‘Time Lines’, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf / 2004 ‘Splender Geometrik’, Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne / 2003 ‘Villa Romana 2003’, Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen / 2003 ‘Hausordnungen’, curated by Katharina Menzel, Stadthaus Ulm / 2002 ‘here and now’, Büro Friedrich, Berlin
Projects: 2004 Design of the Foyer of Kunsthalle Basel, with Julian Göthe / 2002 Der Internationalismus der 70er Jahre I: ‘mouvement des femmes iraniennes-annee zero’ / ‘Bewegung iranischer Frauen — Jahr Null’, France /Iran 1979, presented by Nairy Baghramian, b_books, 2002.
The exhibition of Nairy Baghramian of has been generously supported by Martin Hatebur