Mexico City

Nairy Baghramian, Chin Up, 2015, leather, epoxy resin, chromed steel, silicone, 9' 3 3/4" × 14' × 2'. Installation view. Photo: Diego Pérez.

Nairy Baghramian, Chin Up, 2015, leather, epoxy resin, chromed steel, silicone, 9' 3 3/4" × 14' × 2'. Installation view. Photo: Diego Pérez.

Nairy Baghramian

Museo Tamayo

Nairy Baghramian, Chin Up, 2015, leather, epoxy resin, chromed steel, silicone, 9' 3 3/4" × 14' × 2'. Installation view. Photo: Diego Pérez.

Nairy Baghramian’s first Mexican exhibition, “Hand Me Down,” reveals her ability not just to occupy but to play with space, rendering an institutional space intimate, bizarre, filling it with shards of bone or bits of organs that bring to mind bodies in a posthuman world. In this show, her work comprises three kinds of structures: five large, leather-covered resin sculptures in pale, dusty colors, hanging from the walls like lungs, chunks of brain, or soft prostheses, each titled Chin Up (all works 2015); bony, delicate, polished steel-and-silicone structures set on the floor like remnants of a cyborg whale, such as Jupon des corps (Body’s Underskirt); and white resin-and-plaster shells with chrome tubes that recall some kind of carapace, body armor, or shelter (Second Choices, Sample A; Second Choices, Sample B; Second Choices, Sample C; and Second Choices, Sample D).

What unites the three types is precisely the idea of the hand-me-down, whereby the artist comfortably or uncomfortably inhabits the inherited legacy of Minimalist sculpture. There is a certain vulnerability articulated throughout, even in the single work that seems most different from the rest, The Snag. This piece, a photograph in an incomplete white metal frame, has been set freestanding on the museum floor and shows the legs of a man wearing yellow socks and brown leather sandals, shot from behind. As its title indicates, it is the snag on which the reading of the Minimalist legacy stumbles, at the same time as its oddness and simplicity underscore the tension in Baghramian’s art between aspects of fragility or porosity on one hand and hardness or impermeability on the other.

The work, and the show as a whole, is elegant, clean, with soft or polished surfaces—and a polished discourse behind it too—yet all the cleanness, neatness, stillness feel a bit disturbing. Something in the way the sculptures occupy the space and mediate it—especially Chin Up, because of its proportions and the height at which it is hung—brings up questions of our sense of scale and our place as spectators within the space. In blowing up these abstracted body parts, Baghramian defamiliarizes the space in which they are placed, changes the context and texture and therefore our experience. We are turned inside out, innards exposed and reflected; or we’re looking from within the body—tiny people within the gigantic museum.

And this gesture of turning the inside out, of evoking an interior perspective, is something that has long concerned Baghramian. She has often reflected directly on interiors and decoration, using them to address issues of feminism, abstraction, and—perhaps paradoxically—both Surrealism and Minimalism in unexpected ways. Baghramian has mentioned her interest in the fact that interior decorating and its secondary, or “minor,” history within the arts and modernism opened a crack through which women and homosexuals could enter, albeit in a marginalized way.

Perhaps this interest in interiors can also be linked to the artist’s Persian roots—a culture in which the place of women is traditionally indoors, with an artistic tradition in which abstraction runs strong. Baghramian has said that her affinity with Surrealism reflects the distortions produced by historical and social limitations. And so the proverbial juxtaposition of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table becomes a soft lung, a chromed rib, and a white shell scattered around a museum, eliciting a change in perspective, a shift in posture—ours and even the institution’s—as the inside is made public on its walls.

Gabriela Jauregui