Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gabriel Orozco at MoMA

From the Samurai Tree series, IM (2006), egg tempera on red cedar panel with gold leaf, 21 5/8 x 21 5/8"

What is most important is not so much what people see in the gallery or the museum, but what people see after looking at these things, how they confront reality again.
–Gabriel Orozco.

Some artists would be better off wthout retrospectives. Coming across Gabriel Orozco’s work piecemeal in galleries and museums, reading about it in books and art magazines, I was enthralled. Seeing it at MoMA I was dis-enthralled. What looks like a happy eclecticism when viewed sporadically over time reveals itself as dilettantism up close; much that Orozco has done, someone else did better and sooner, so it ends up looking like a lot of threads that were never fully developed--although I, unlike other critics, absolutely adore many of his drawings and collages.

Even where he’s at his best, however, Orozco doesn’t know when to stop and take the work that extra mile—the large paintings that are derived from his collages and drawings look forced. And in the giant gallery in Prints and Drawings on the second floor, Orozco chose to mount an around-the-walls repetition similar to Andy Warhol’s Shadows (1978) but without the sublimity.

Recycled works such as the installation of four clear yogurt caps pinned to opposing walls and the empty shoebox at the entrance to the exhibition seem, especially the second time around, less like conceptual art than sheer hubris, what the artist can get away with because of his celebrity. My friend Ann has coined the phrase “poke in the eye art” in that it makes fun of the rest of us who are struggling to create something meaningful. Also I resent the idea that the masses out there, your average museum goers, are unseeing, unfeeling ignoramuses who need artists, superior beings that we are, to lead them out of the darkness—this time by upsetting their expectation to see something satisfying when they shell out $20 to go to a museum.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an argument for craft for the sake of craft. I’m all for art that calls for a minimum of intervention (such as when, in 1975, Robert Irwin transformed the space in a gallery at Chicago's MCA with just a strip of black tape or Orozco, in 1993, placed an orange in each of the windows of the buildings adjacent to MoMA--brilliant!). But when the message is oblique, didactic, and separated from its intention by the distance in time....sometimes a shoebox is just a shoebox.

Also check out Deborah Sontag’s review in Friday’s Times and Holland Cotter's review today (12/14/09).


underwerket / Lisa Grue said...

I love the picture. You get captured by this painting.
greetings form Copenhagen

CAP said...

Interesting – because I too have only seen individual works and assumed an ensemble would be impressive. But sometimes the parts are greater than the whole. Although I can remember a few years ago watching an Art 21 on the artist and being a little disturbed at just how scattered his approach was (I’d always seen much more of a program to the sliced Citroen, the circular pool table, etc).

So your response confirms my worst suspicions really.

But how would you rate this show against the Urs Fischer survey?

Ethan Rosenberg said...

some other important reviews need to be read to be able to understand the dimension of Gabriel Orozco's work and retrospective: Peter Schjeldhal in The New Yorker, Christian Viveros-Faune in the Village Voice, Nancy Princenthal in Art in America and Morgan Falconer in Burlington Magazine.