review swapper

Gabriel Orozco

In New York on January 20, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Gabriel Orozco, 'Black Kites', 1997

MoMA, New York, 13 December 2009 – 1 March 2010

I thought my friends Jess and Jordy might be interested in this artist’s work because of the way he uses non-art materials, common bits and pieces, junk sometimes, to make a little bit of something appear from not much of a starting point. Leftovers are often Orozco’s materials, in the way that J&J have made their own work from things like all the tape they use up working as exhibition installers in Melbourne.

Gabriel Orozco has shown at Venice and Documenta, he is represented by Marian Goodman Gallery, there have been major retrospectives of his work including the current one at MoMA. And he knows how to make big works. La DS (1993) is a vintage Citrön DS, cut lengthwise into thirds, the middle portion removed and the two sides reconstructed into a skinnier, sleeker (but unworkable), sex symbol of a car.

But what this survey show impresses most is Orozco’s ability to shift effortlessly between such a grand glamorous work as the Citrön and very small personal works. Simple gestures and small acts gather their own weight in his practice. Yielding Stone (1992) can be seen as a symbol of this way of working. The object is a balled lump of plasticine that matches the artist’s body weight. The act (conducted without an audience, not documented) was to roll this soft sphere through the city. It got dirty, bumped around and grazed over time by everything it came in contact with. In the exhibition we see just the object, on the floor, bearing all its little scars.

It’s so clumpy and quite beautiful at once. And it seems like it could pose a bit of an end game problem for sculpture – a representation of the human body caught in such a basic form. Yet, made as it is from such a malleable substance as plasticine, the evidence of its entire existence rests on its surface, unchanging to the extent that museum conservators and guards can now preserve it.

Two aspects present in Yielding Stone also play out across much of Orozco’s sculptural works: the object’s temporal dimension and its vulnerability to the chance of external forces. A kind of assemblage piece, Penske Work Project: Open Door, comes from a 1998 series that first took form on the street beside skips and construction sites. Pulling pieces from piles of rubbish Orozco arranged his works on the spot and photographed them for reference. He then loaded up his own rented Penske truck with the selected pieces to later remake his kerbside installations in a gallery – a rendition rather than documentation, of a momentary arrangement.

Gabriel Orozco, 'Cats and Watermelons', 1992

Other works that have occurred outside the gallery, at supermarkets say, do end up in the exhibition as photographs. To create the picture Cats and Watermelons (1992) Orozco again made a little private performance in a public space, based on finding and arranging available objects. Like his sculptural works these compositions are quite temporal and handmade, which I think reflects both curiosity and adaptability.

While these last mentioned works capture something fleeting, others demonstrate a heavier and more internal sense of time. A repetitive and meticulous, geometric pattern was drawn by Orozco onto a human skull over a number of weeks he spent ill at home alone (Black Kites, 1997). In Dial Tone (1992) Orozco cut the column of numbers from every page of a New York City phone book and pasted them together into a seemingly endless scroll. It’s an epic work, but still somehow intimate.

Interestingly, Orozco has done the smallest or emptiest things when facing the pressure and expectation of significant exhibitions: his first commercial gallery show in New York was virtually an empty room, with only a transparent plastic yoghurt pot lid pinned to each of the four walls. At the 1993 Venice Biennale Orozco exhibited just a plain empty shoebox (and had to retrieve it from the rubbish after the pavilion had been cleaned). To me these pointed acts jar against the playful generosity apparent in other works, but they are sharpened specifically towards the art world. Only those with conditioned expectations in these situations stand to be disappointed.

MoMA has a very nice website with lots of images from the exhibition here.

Reviewed by Rosemary Forde to swap with Jess Johnson.

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