The tightly edited survey of Gabriel Orozco’s major works, on view at MoMA, is an exercise in calculated futility made to illustrate the artist’s oft-repeated aim to frustrate, “the expectations of the one who waits to be amazed.” What beauty one may see in Orozco’s work is often easy to miss: the simplicity of a suggestion, the rawness of humble materials, the surgically precise alteration of readymade objects, the near infinite permutations of color and shape in a formulaic painting practice. The results are often equally nonchalant and aggressive.
Orozco’s work bears a powerful and conflicted relationship with what the Japanese call mingei, a folk art tradition that connotes handcrafted art made by ordinary people. As his star has risen, the context surrounding Orozco’s work has changed. Some of his humble works, either handmade or appropriated—an empty shoe box, yogurt cup lids, clay sculptures—are now regarded as not-so-humble masterpieces commanding admiration from collectors, curators and the like.
Does Orozco’s work still have the power it first had when it was shown ten or fifteen years ago? Critics are already amusingly divided. Holland Cotter, who in general felt the material lacked the power of its initial impact, still sees Orozco as an artist who “finds the cosmic in the commonplace.” Peter Schjeldahl offers purse-lipped praise in this week’s New Yorker and admits to having never liked the paintings, but is nonetheless a fan. Today at 6:30 PM, MoMA Briony Fer, Ann Temkin and Orozco sit down for an open panel discussion. Fer is an academic who has contributed to the exhibition’s catalogue. Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture and organizer of the Orozco retrospective, was previously a curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). She was instrumental in organizing the acquisition for Orozco’s spectacular Black Kites (1997) for PMA, a notable achievement in her long résumé. The artist has a way of shunting argument before it begins with his patient, deliberately contradictory statements, yet this panel discussion is sure to baptize new converts to Orozco’s gospel.
GABRIEL OROZCO, FOUR BICYCLES (THERE IS ALWAYS ONE DIRECTION), 1994. COURTESY THE ARTIST. GABRIEL OROZCO IS ON VIEW THROUGH MARCH 1. MOMA IS LOCATED AT 11 WEST 53RD STREET, NEW YORK.