The Nasher Sculpture Center has named Iranian artist Nairy Baghramian as the recipient of the 2022 Nasher Prize, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to sculpture. Baghramian will be presented with an award designed by Renzo Piano, architect of the Nasher Sculpture Center, at a ceremony in Dallas on 2 April, 2022.

Baghramian’s current show ‘Misfits’ at Galleria d’Arte Moderna (GAM) explores the artist’s distinctive and unconventional approach. Inhabiting both the interior and exterior of the spaces, Baghramian’s vast new show is curated by Bruna Roccasalva and has been conceived as a partnership between Fondazione Furla, GAM, and Fondazione Henraux. 

This is a tribute to the awkwardness of play: the dysfunction, the disappointment, and the failure. By extension, the Berlin-based Iranian artist is honouring those who draw outside the lines: the nonconformists, the marginalised, the misfits. 

Baghramian’s work has long toyed with the intersection of architecture, sculpture and the human body – ‘Misfits’ does just this, and more. By merging the idea of play as an educational tool with reflection on the experience of disappointment and inadequacy, Baghramian’s works are inextricably linked to all those who encounter them, and the larger socio-cultural context they occupy.

 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.
 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.

Nods to the unconventional began before Baghramian’s ‘Misfits’ even arrived on the scene. In the outdoor urban setting of the GAM, overlooked by the Neoclassical Villa Reale is a garden, open to adults, but only when accompanied by children. It was this tension between the playful world of childhood and the frustration of its limited accessibility, that sparked the inspiration for ‘Misfits’. 

Another key chapter in the story of this show is the materials. The marble for Baghramian’s works was sourced from Fondazione Henraux, the Tuscan marble specialist and 2013 Wallpaper* Handmade collaborator. Baghramian travelled to the company’s quarries, on Monte Altissimo, where she closely observed the complex business of extracting and processing the material.

Nairy Baghramian on a monumental ’Bianco Altissimo Cervaiole’ marble block at Fondazione Henraux
Nairy Baghramian with the Henraux sculpture department manager, at the Henraux Headquarters, Querceta di Seravezza, Italy.
Top: Nairy Baghramian on a monumental Bianco Altissimo Cervaiole marble block (Statuary white). Above: the artist with Henraux sculpture department manager, at the Henraux headquarters, Querceta di Seravezza, Italy. Courtesy Fondazione Henraux. Photography: Nicola Gnesi

‘Historically, marble has the connotation of weight and is the “perfect” material for sculpture, with the big promise of durability, and is overloaded with representational attitudes,’ says Baghramian. ‘Meeting at the quarry in Querceta with the wonderful elder quarryman was inspiring. He remembers almost every artist who came and worked with the marble in that area – Hepworth, Moore, Noguchi, Arp, Louise Bourgeois. He explains how he “reads” the veins in the block and senses the fragility of the marble.’

The disassembled parts of the resulting sculptures recall the structures of objects associated with play. ‘The new sculptures were inspired by assembly-building toys designed for young children: at first glance, the two parts of each sculpture appear to fit together, when in reality, they do not. This evokes disappointment, frustration, and the feeling of failure experienced by playing with a toy that does not function,’ the artist explains.

 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.

‘It is important that within the framework of educational, social constructs, and the reading of sculptural forms, the handling of the dysfunctional should be appreciated. The moment of the supposed final comprehension should be given space and not be determined as a transitional state in favour of harmony and the functional.’

Each work comprises two halves made of different materials: painted casted aluminium and wood for the interior pieces, and marble for those outside – and installed as the disjointed parts of a potential whole. From childhood, we are taught to assemble parts that dovetail to form perfect wholes: everything simply must fit together. Baghramian’s sculptures do everything but. Here, error is the only possible solution, and beauty is incongruity. As the artist concludes: ‘The Misfits are dedicated to those who fail to adapt to their social environment and remain marginal.’ §

 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.
 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.
 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.
 Furla Series - Nairy Baghramian. ’Misfits’, installation view at GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan. 2021. Exhibition curated by Bruna Roccasalva, promoted by Fondazione Furla and GAM – Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Milan.