The sculptors Nairy Bagramain and Phyllida Barlow have been brought together for a joint show at the Serpentine this season. The two sculptural positions explored in this pairing of work are not instantly graspable: the materiality of the pair is strikingly different from one another and the scale, delicacy and formal sensitivities are not instantly reconciled either. It is when one considers questions concerning context and spatial relations that a firm common (or uncommon) ground between the works are established. Both artists revel in blocking, dividing, obstructing and separating the ambulating space of the Serpentine galleries.
Viewing the works as context dependent, spatial and negotiable is not only a sculptural position, but also presents the works as a sort of political object. Both artists are of an age where they will have contended with the commodity driven art of the 1980s which places itself firmly in opposition to a sculpture of specificity in favour of a worship of the generic and contextless object. These works are arguments for a particular notion of sculpture and like all good political arguments the works play out as both oppositional and progressive – rejecting the previous order of things but pointing towards a new direction, wherever that maybe. Barlow in particular demonstrates a material economy and expedience which democratises art making on the one hand, and demonstrates an urgency to produce on the other.
There is a prevailing matter-of-factness to all the work particularly Barlow’s. Look beneath a wall mounted box and you will see the polystyrene packing which gives the piece it’s bulging form – and all the better for it. Much has been made recently of Barlow’s influence as a teacher – and rightly so – but it should in no way be seen to detract from the seriousness and importance of the work.
Baghramain’s work has often been seen as evoking an “absent presence”. Her works point beyond their material presence to the spaces or narratives which might exist around her sculptures in other contexts. There is something uncanny about their similarities to other objects which one cannot quite place within our visual lexicons.
Underlying both practices are a range of tactics for arranging sculptural objects that are reminiscent of late 1960s and 1970s minimalist and anti-form works – the “prop”, the “cluster”, the “pile” and the “floor piece”. At root there is a questioning of “what sculpture is” and an assertion that it is more than the cult of the object and more than the fetishisation of particular materials, methods or commodity objects.
-- Mike Tuck
All images courtesy the artists and Serpentine Gallery
Images: Nairy Baghramian, Londoner Türsteher (London Bouncer) 2010, Installation view Nairy Baghramian and Phyllida Barlow, Serpentine Gallery, London 2010, © 2010 Nairy Baghramian, Photograph: Raphael Hefti; Phyllida Barlow, Untitled: balcony 2010, Installation view Nairy Baghramian and Phyllida Barlow, Serpentine Gallery, London 2010, © 2010 Phyllida Barlow
Photograph: Raphael Hefti.