Friday, November 30, 2007

REVIEW: Nairy Baghramian at Galerie Nagel

Nairy Baghramian
Galerie Christian Nagel
24 June – 6 August

Once upon a time in a land far from the familiar, on a Mediterranean beach, Rock Hudson disappeared behind a striped cabana to change out of his wet swimming trunks. Was it Monaco? Nice? Cannes? It was there, in any case, that he met Grace Kelly, an heiress and a southern belle. And though he was not the thief that she believed him to be, she longed for his life, the aura around him, longed for the adventure of stealing diamonds. But to catch a cat like Rock required more than just the flourish of a chiffon-covered shoulder and a polished Texas twang.

These were my first thoughts while meandering through Nairy Baghramian’s sculpture Vierte Wand/Zwei Protagonisten (Fourth Wall/Two Protagonists) (all works 2005), whose faded yellow stripes reminded one of canopies and colonnades, of wicker-work under a portico lined with ferns. In theatrical terms, the ‘fourth wall’ is that invisible space the actors look to as if the audience were a wall onto which they projected a faked reality. This was the first scene of a play enacted in our minds, sehnsuchtig for those Technicolor Junes, of beach front views we found difficult to afford without the remorse of guilt.

As reality would have it, Rock was no rock but a Cary (Grant). Nonetheless, along the corridor were trap doors with (if one bent low enough to see) golden teeth, a painful twist on a motif. A place of escape or invitation to the world beyond the looking glass, these Klappen mit Goldenen Zähnen (Traps with Golden Teeth) offered a glimpse into the impossible, and such absurdities have flourished in galleries seemingly for centuries and yet … never quite enough.

Beyond these narrative traps of seeing and not seeing, of hiding and of the flamboyance of being on stage was the peek-a-boo of Teestube (Tea Salon), something of the belle holding up her billowing skirt by a thread while floating through the ball room. This sculpture, or rather this living breathing creature, this eminent beauty in balletic pose, was to be seen through the glance in a mirror, curtseying behind a fan, in the spotlight without ever appearing to want to be. Here the latent poetry of 1950s Cologne was to be found behind a paravent, not seen directly but from the reflected periphery, something one could sense without seeing. What others might see as a shameless flirtation with hypocrisy, seemed to me allusions to affluence leaning less towards a literal critique of the Vanity Fair than to nostalgia for the noble sublimity of convening at tea. Indeed, the capitalist critique inherent in the show’s title ‘Die Geister Mögen das Flanieren’ subtly gestured towards a telethesia of graceful discontent.

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