In French, modéle vivant refers to the practice of drawing, painting, or sculpting the human figure from a live model; that is, from a person who strikes, assumes, holds a given pose in service to an artist’s act of composition. The title of Nairy Baghramian’s current exhibition thus not only names her new body of work but also summons a conventional history of studio procedure that often seemed to subsume or to sublimate bodies, depending on one’s point of view.
Then again, Baghramian’s sculptures affirm that points of view can change, sometimes must change—sometimes repeatedly. In the most literal terms, the specific location from which a viewer views any sculpture shifts as the person moves their own body around or in relation to the artwork. More metaphorically, too, the works in Modéle vivant ask what a sculptural body might be, and might mean, even when no body is explicitly figured.
Baghramian appends to most of her reflexive verbs a parenthetical, in each case denominating a color, maybe also a temperature, of sorts. Some are straightforward, mauve or taupe or red ochre; some are more atmospheric, “crepuscular” indicating the quality of light at a particular time of day, or “horizon blue” indicating the hazy hue that obtains to distance, or “rust” indicating at once a color and a material. Even ventre de biche, “doe’s belly,” is the name of an available pigment.