Monday, November 1, 2010

Gabriel Orozco au Centre Pompidou

If you have a spare hour and are in the neighborhood, it's worth popping into the Orozco exhibition at Beaubourg. The exhibition is small and somehow disparate, not necessarily giving an overall sense of Orozco's oeuvre, but there is something delightful about it. Orozco's works are a playful and joyous celebration of the everyday world seen from a different perspective well before they are profound and philosophical. The distortion, manipulation, the rendering strange and the effects of the artist's interventions come well after we have puzzled over what the object is, or what is shown in the photograph. And so, the works begin as puzzles or games, and as we look closer, for longer, they reveal themselves as highly conceptual, sometimes inaccessible. Stuffed socks, bicycles magically woven together or the ripples created by rain drops are first and foremost fun, and then their reverberrations begin.

Four Bicycles (There Is Always One Direction). 1994

One of the most delightful things about this exhibition is that Orozco had the interior walls of the glass-walled Galerie Sud removed, and the result is an exhibition that becomes an extension of the square outside. Depending on what way you look at it, it maybe that the gallery space opens out and spills over into the square outside.

The other side of the Pompidou Center
The public spaces surrounding the Centre Pompidou are liminal non-spaces, places where those inside the galleries tend not to linger. On the rue Beaubourg side of the centre, the "arcade" is seedy, smelling like urine, home to the itinerant, young people on skateboards and the massive line of people waiting to get into the public library. As I wandered around the various istallations, the echo of the kids on their skateboards became like a sound score to the found and manipulated objects and images of Gabriel Orozco. On the south facing wall, Tinguely's newly renovated sculpture continues to draw crowds, but they were mostly obscured by the people giving massages right up against the glass wall. All of this activity, performed in silence thanks to the glass wall that separates inside from outside, was quietly pursued, reinforcing the silence of Orozco's objects made strange, the exquisite forms and shapes of his paintings, drawings and photographs.

Gabriel Orozco, Extension of Reflection, 1992

The exhibition includes "actors playing the role of Mexican police guards 'imported' to take care of the works." Sadly, the idea of these "police guards" is much more enticing than the reality. The young uniformed or costumed guards slouched on chairs, talked to each other, thus distracted from the silence created by Orozco's works against the background noise of the skateboards. As promised by a sign at the entrance, the works were alarmed because Orozco had chosen to have them laid out in the single space of the Galerie Sud. When visitors stepped over the line that set the alarm off, the "guards" would yell "madame" or "monsieur" from their chairs. One of the things that makes being at the Centre Pompidou so congenial and pleasurable is the non-invasive guards that are often an imposing fixture of other, lesser museums. The fact that the guards at the Pompidou are ordinarily unobtrusive worked to accentuate the Mexican police as an irritating presence rather than the imaginative element they were supposed to be.

The exhibition itself is a landscape rather than a chronological account or even a themed vision of Orozco's work. There are works on walls, tables and the floor. Set out on tressles more commonly found at flea markets than in art galleries, the objects are delicately and precisely arranged. This also made the presence of the Mexican police very irritating because the instinctive urge is to get close and to interact with the objects, to see inside the shoe box, to read the entries on the telephone directory, and to press our face up against the window of the citroen car which is being used on the publicity. But given the surveillance system in place, it was difficult to do this.

Gabriel Orozco. (Mexican, born 1962) My Hands Are My Heart. 1991
One strong theme in Orozco's work is the manipulation of, or the transience of objects that can be manipulated. Orozco uses materials in his sculptures that are always malleable -- foam, wood, paper, plastic, clay, plasticine, rubber. Again and again, the work of the artist is to leave his imprint on the surface of these materials. This need to manipulate and shape reaches its most powerful image in My Hands are My Heart, 1991 (above) in which the hands mould through leaving their imprint on clay, and then when the hands are removed, they have made a heart. This image sits on the same wall as some of Orozco's most exquisite drawings in which he delicately, and meticulously finds the unfathomably perfect patterns and logic of natural forms such as leaves and puddles of water, even the human body. And in the coming together of these two concerns, Orozco explores the permutations of preservation. French Flies, 2010 (as opposed to French Fries!) where flies of different sizes are caught in clay and thereby fossilized. Nature in all its beauty and perfection is here simultaneously stopped in its tracks and given eternal life.

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