Sunday, 27 February 2011

Gabriel Orozco at Tate Modern - Review

The Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco provides us with a mirror on modern society. He forces the viewer to reflect on life by taking everyday objects and scenes and presenting them to us as art.
‘For me what is important is not so much what people see in the show, it’s what you see after … how your perception of reality is changed …’ Orozco
At times the subject matter is playful as in Four Bicycles (There Is Always One Direction) 1994; at others, macabre as in Black Kites 1997, a sculpture consisting of a chequerboard pattern painted on a human skull [see Exhibition poster above].

La DS 1993, epitomises Orozco's approach and method. In this work Orozco has reshaped a Citroen DS to accentuate its aerodynamic design by removing the central longitudinal section of the car. The resulting two-seater is a paradox: an engine-less car that is styled for speed. Here is both wit and poignancy.

The most surprising piece for me was Lintels 2001, an installation of washing lines draped with the lint formed of skin, hair and fabric that accumulates in the filters of commercial tumble drying machines collected from a laundromat in New York. The piece, which is a meditation on the precariousness of life, was first exhibited in New York in the aftermath of 9:11.

Orozco enjoys playing games. Indeed he takes this as one of his themes. In Horses Running Endlessly 1995 he invents a variant of chess with a board four times as large populated only with four teams of knights. With no king to capture the conventional goal of the game has disappeared and the viewer is forced to create his own rules for the game. Likewise, in Carambole with Pendulum 1996 the viewer is presented with a game with no possibility of winning in conventional terms.

Going around the exhibition I recalled the time when, as a student, in the course of a pretentious argument that ran into the small hours, a friend blue-tacked a pencil to the wall and we disputed whether or not this constituted art. Orozco challenges our notions of what constitutes art throughout most of the exhibtion. Nowhere is this seen more overtly than in Shoebox 1993, a very witty piece which does not even appear in the guide. Shoebox 1993 is simply that - it is an empty commercial shoebox placed in the middle of the gallery floor without barrier, "Do not touch" notice or obvious label. A shoebox in any other context is just a shoebox, but a shoebox on display in the Tate becomes art.

If great art is defined as art that you come back to time and time again and see something new, then this is not great art. But Orozco does make you think and he does make you smile.

Gabriel Orozco is at the Tate Modern until 25th April 2011.

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