Art in America: Amir Nikravan

By Jennifer S. Li

The ten sculptures in Amir Nikravan’s show (all 2018) reconfigured a so-called Eastern motif by architect Edward Durell Stone, of Radio City Music Hall and Museum of Modern Art fame. The motif is a capsule shape that repeats on various white walls in the “Persian-inspired” building Stone designed for Stuart Pharmaceuticals in Pasadena, California. Constructed between 1956 and 1958 and exemplifying midcentury modernist style, the building today provides communal and office space for an apartment complex that has been constructed around it (Nikravan first encountered the capsule pattern while working out at the gym there). Nikravan turned Stone’s motif into wall-mounted and pedestal-based objects that have the vivid colors and lush curves of Frank Stella’s “Protractor Paintings,” the restrained minimalism of Donald Judd’s sculptures, and the playfulness of Richard Artschwager’s “blps.” In reappropriating the orientalizing motif, Nikravan, an American with Persian and Mexican heritage, aims to challenge the tendency in Western art and design to turn other cultures into mere decoration.


The sculptures are plaster-and-wood structures with painted canvas vacuum-sealed to their various planes. Generally, they have circuitous, snaking forms. In some areas they look solid, and in others they are open, appearing like curved sections of steel I-beams, with winding, flat channels surrounded by flanges. Nikravan painted the canvas after sealing it to the sculptural armatures. The channels (due to the texture of the plaster underlying the canvas there) display stuccolike stippling in gradient tones, while the works’ exterior facades exhibit smooth, saturated color, resembling Ellsworth Kelly’s shaped canvases.


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June 1, 2018