Art Basel | Basel, Switzerland | Art Feature Sector | Booth T11
Alexander Gray Associates presented recent and historical work by Siah Armajani (b.1939), highlighting the artist’s ongoing interest and study of bridges. For Armajani, “the bridge is not a metaphor, it is not a simile. It is a bridge for its own sake. It brings together the art with what is below, above, before and what is after.” Reflecting on the bridge as both the physical embodiment of a connecting structure and a conceptual framework has enabled Armajani to cross cultural spheres between his native Persian and adopted American cultures, becoming one of the first architectural elements, and the most enduring, to appear as a repeating motif in his six-decade practice.
Armajani moved to the United States from Iran in 1960 to study philosophy at Macalester College in Minnesota. While his early education in Tehran and exposure to Persian literature and poetry was key to his connection with the symbolic meaning of bridges, it was during this time when his interest in American vernacular architecture grew and the physical structure emerged in his practice. In his 1960s objects, including Paul Bunyan’s Matchsticks (1968), Armajani deconstructed the truss systems of wood bridges, providing the basis for his later models and celebrated public works. House Before the Bridge and House Above the Bridge (both 1974–1975) continue Armajani’s conceptual exploration, re-creating the simple construction techniques of early American bridges and the parallel wooden planks used to build farmhouses, yet undermine the assumptions that a bridge should span something physical, and a house must provide shelter. Rather, the bridge stands as symbol for passage, both material and psychological. The reflection of the large-scale sculpture, Street Corner No. 3 (1995), encourages this symbolic nature by establishing a new sense of place as much as articulating an existing one. Continuing the perceptual illusion that recurs in many of Armajani’s early models, art historian Nancy Princenthal notes, “the first disjunction these bridges illustrate is between visual and bodily sensation, between what is presumed from sight and prior knowledge, and how that presumption can be overturned by physical experience.”
Fusing multiple experiences through art is a pivotal idea in Armajani’s vision and production, exemplified in his literary and cultural interests that are not bound by his Iranian heritage, but also in his ongoing engagement with European and American philosophers, writers and thinkers. Drawing on this connection are his early calligraphic works from the 1950s with his most recent drawings from the “Tomb Series” (1972—ongoing), including Tomb for Frank O’Hara (2015), which pay homage to those who have inspired his artistic philosophy.
About Art Basel
The world's premier international art show for Modern and contemporary works, Art Basel features nearly 300 leading galleries from North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa. More than 2,500 artists, ranging from the great masters of Modern art to the latest generation of emerging stars, are represented in the show's multiple sections. The exhibition includes the highest-quality paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, video and editioned works.
With its world-class museums, outdoor sculptures, theaters, concert halls, idyllic medieval old town and new buildings by leading architects, Basel ranks as a culture capital, and that cultural richness helps put the Art Basel week on the agenda for art lovers from all over the globe. During Art Basel, a fascinating atmosphere fills this traditional city, as the international art show is reinforced with exhibitions and events all over the region.