Born in Mexico, but now working mainly in New York, Gabriel Orozco engages the legacy of modernist sculpture with a kind of artistic nomadism that “succeeds in imbuing its original iconography with a fresh, poetically abstract quality, giving rise to a new object that can obviously comply with several definitions of sculpture.” He borrows sculptural techniques from various phases of art history and applies them to simple things, transforming ordinary objects into sculptures in the classical sense without erasing their original status as “things.” Creating personal variations on common things, he often uses altered games as a metaphor for social development and interaction. The pieces are only complete with the input of the viewer because the games have no rules; the players must bring their own rules to the game. Let’s Entertain includes Horses Running Endlessly (1995), a beautiful chess table without kings, queens, bishops, rooks, or pawns. It has only the knights, the horses. In the traditional form of chess, horses can only be moved sideways, creating endless circular loops. Those attempting to play this version must choose between that fate and the possibility of creating new rules on the spot. Breaking with convention is the artist’s seeming directive. As one critic has written, “[Orozco] is an activist in the sense that his daily activity confronts the shortcomings of our perception of reality.” In making the familiar strange and exciting, the artist offers a poetic meditation on play, social engagement, and the ephemerality of everyday experience. Orozco’s work was included in documenta X in 1997 and the 1999 Carnegie International.
- Gabriel Orozco
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biography Gabriel Orozco, Let’s Entertain: Life’s Guilty Pleasures 2000
essay Gabriel Orozco, 2005
The work of Gabriel Orozco is poetry in motion. He has spent his life traveling the world, and not surprisingly, his sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations have come to document his slight and often ephemeral interventions into his immediate surroundings. They convey, often with modest means and scale, the romance of daily life. As a result of his peripatetic lifestyle, Orozco has abandoned the notion of a traditional studio practice. In a 2003 interview he explained: “The post-studio practice in my case was to understand this studio on a temporal basis and not on a spatial basis. I took the word ‘studio’ literally, not as a space of production but as [a] time of knowledge. That time of knowledge can be generated in different places: outdoors or indoors. And the result of this … is unpredictable, because I don’t own the means of production: I don’t own a factory, I don’t have a school, I have no assistants … I can use all of these models. But my favorites are the street, kitchen, and table.”1
Orozco was born into a family of painters, and as is true with many artists emerging from Mexico during the second half of the twentieth century, he had to contend with the cultural legacy of the celebrated muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco (no relation), and David Alfaro Siquieros (with whom Gabriel’s father had studied and worked as an assistant). In 1993, Orozco burst onto the international art scene with solo exhibitions at the Kanaal Art Foundation in Kortrijk, Belgium; the “Projects” space at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris, where he showed his now notorious work La D.S., a French-made Citroën D.S. automobile which he cut lengthwise into three cross sections, removed the central portion, and seamlessly reconnected the remaining lateral pieces to form a shadow of its former self. The next year, he was offered his first solo New York show at Marian Goodman Gallery, where his exhibition of four blue-rimmed plastic yogurt container caps, one per wall, was spare, bordering on invisible. The controversial reception of this minimalist gesture in addition to the increasingly pronounced eclecticism of his prac-tice made manifest in these exhibitions led to his subsequent meteoric ascendancy within the art world.
Orozco’s privileging of found objects has been widely accepted as a poetic reinterpretation of Duchamp’s use of the “readymade,” but the artist has also freely acknowledged other influences, most notably Arte Povera’s recycling of prosaic materials, Minimalism’s strict geometries and seriality, and Earth Art’s exploration of sites beyond the confines of the gallery. However, like Robert Morris and Bruce Nauman before him, the artist’s body is perhaps the central reference point and unit of measure within Orozco’s work. In 1992, he created Piedra que cede (Yielding Stone), a pristine ball of plasticine modeling clay weighing the same amount as his own body (approximately 150 pounds). Like the tendency for travelers to accumulate impressions and souvenirs from a particular place, he rolled this malleable “stone” through the streets of New York City so it picked up all manner of detritus that became embedded in its surface.2 Ultimately, the debris and inevitable indentations suffered by the piece reflect the geography of the urban environment and bear traces of time’s passage.
Cited in Hans Ulrich Obrist: Interviews, vol. 1, ed. Thomas Boutoux (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2003), 646–647. Despite his theoretical protestations to the contrary, Orozco has established home bases in New York, Paris, and Mexico City. ↩
Since its inception, the piece has become well traveled, having been rolled through the streets of Los Angeles and Mexico City on the occasion of a major survey of Orozco’s work at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (2000), which traveled to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Internacional Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City (2001), and to the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Mexico (2001). While the piece was in Los Angeles, the artist added shoe and finger marks. See documentation in the Walker Art Center Archives. ↩
Carpenter, Elizabeth. “Gabriel Orozco.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.
© 2005 Walker Art Center