Last Sunday at the Hirshhorn, I saw a great documentary about one of my favorite artists. Juan Carlos Martin followed Gabriel Orozco around the world for three years, filming and taping the meandering artist’s creative process, his installations, and the art world’s reactions to his work.
To my eyes, apparent slightness is one of the most powerful aspects of Orozco’s work. Martin’s film reveals the intensely sustained effort Orozco’s effortless-looking art requires. Weeks of tedious fabrication in a small Mexican hamlet translates into an unassuming beachscape in a German museum. The objects exhibited in The Penske Project turns out to be the tip of the iceberg of searching, alteration, and driving in the rental truck that gave the show its name. “When I’m enjoying the process, I know the result will be OK,” Gabriel’s voiceover explains.
With palimpsest voiceovers and interviews, raw camera movement and editing, and a marked lack of self-importance, Martin’s film is a standout in the deathly boring artist documentary genre. (Think talking academic heads, the artist walking on cue, and endless tracking shots through an empty museum.) But this light-n-lively touch has its drawbacks, and they still bug.
Continue reading “Art, Movies, and The Heisenberg Effect”
Gabriel Orozco usually installs his photos interspersed with other works–drawings, collages, and sculpture. The Hirshhorn show which opened last week is the first time they’ve been shown alone. The show felt instantly familiar, and not because I’ve been a follower, fan, and collector of Orozco’s work for almost ten years. In that time, the artist has published several text-free collections of his photography. The exhibition feels like one of these artist books.
Each image on its own is almost incidental. This is purely intentional. From one of the earliest, most literal works in the show, My hands are my heart, Orozco takes the gesture of the artist as his theme. The gesture, no matter how slight, is at least one degree more concrete than that holy Duchampian standard of Artistic creation, the idea. But that doesn’t mean a gesture is any more substantial, just the opposite.
Traces of the artist’s breath on a grand piano. Condensation inside a recently removed wristwatch. Ripples from a stone thrown into a rooftop pool. Damp, cyclical bicycle tracks on an empty street. Orozco relentlessly experiments to discover the outcome and significance of even the most fleeting, insignificant gesture. That these gestures won’t last even a few minutes is just fine with him.
In some of his work, it’s hard to even tell what, if anything, Orozco’s done; it’s as if he’s playing a game of Where’s Waldo with us, challenging us to find his intervention. And just as often, especially in the photographs, the gesture is in the snapping of the shutter, the framing of the image. Through the camera’s lens, Orozco invites us to see the world differently, to see it through his eyes.
Given the art world’s current penchant for photography–especially for giant Gursky- and Gaskell-sized c-prints–Orozco’s small format photos seem almost quaint. [Only recently has the artist given in to market pressure and printed his photos in larger sizes. Fortunately, none of these super-sized prints are included in the Hirshhorn show.] Their effect on the viewer doesn’t come from easy, overwhelming spectacle, but through the accumulation of small elements over time. As the Japanese saying goes, Chiri mo tsumoreba, yama to naru (dust, too, piled up, can become a mountain).
And this is where the great power of Orozco’s work lies, and where the Hirshhorn show doesn’t quite deliver. Orozco’s evanescent gestures gain cumulative power when they’re manifested across various mediums, an effect which is muted by the photographs’ formal homogeneity. But put the concentric ripples in a pool next to a boarding pass with compass-drawn circles on it next to a video of a soap bubble floating down the street next to–no kidding–a sculpture consisting of a clear yogurt lid pinned to the wall, and, to the viewer’s surprise and amusement, the specific and banal becomes universal and profound. And I guarantee, you’ll never see a bubble or a cue ball the same way again. You’ll be playing Where’s Gabriel wherever you go.
Related: It’s almost two years since I took New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl to the woodshed over his negative review of Orozco’s work. So Tyler, you’re in good company.
Buy Extension of Reflection, the excellent exhibition catalogue, or From Green Glass to Airplane, the even better collection of stills from Orozco’s video works.
Rob Storr interviewed Felix Gonzalez-Torres in 1995. Felix identified Helen Frankenthaler as the most successful political artist alive, and then told about the invitation he received in 1989 to participate in the State Department’s Art for Embassies Program:
It has this wonderful quote from George Bernard Shaw, which says, “Besides torture, art is the most persuasive weapon.” And I said I didn’t know that the State Department had given up on torture – they’re probably not giving up on torture – but they’re using both. Anyway, look at this letter, because in case you missed the point they reproduce a Franz Kline which explains very well what they want in this program.
4/06 update: Creative Time has since removed this interview, and only one other place, the Queer Cultural Center, is hosting it. To make sure it stays out there, I’m reproducing it in whole on greg.org, just because. [note: I formatted it for easier reading.]
Continue reading “On Politics and Art”
When our DC neighbors’ rather inconsiderately left their wireless networks turned off this morning, I ran over to the Hirshhorn to see their new, temporary installation of the permanent collection. It’s pretty fresh, with room to breathe. A lot of wall and floor space is devoted to newer work, which had always gotten short shrift in the Hirshhorn’s rather staid, historical hang (like a history teacher in May, having to cover “WWII-to-present” in a week).
There are moments of real enjoyment, if not brilliance, but the limitations are the collections’ (pretty good, with a few greats), not the curators’. Turning from the all-black wall (Ad Reinhart, Frank Stella, Richard Serra) to find a rarely seen Robert Smithson spiral sculpture perfectly framed in the doorway is awesome, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
Maybe it’s my skewed NYC perspective, but the installation takes a luxurious approach to space; Wolfgang Laib pollen carpet has a huge gallery to itself. In an equally giant Ann Hamilton room, ceiling robots periodically sent sheets of white paper fluttering to the floor. Some tourists frolicked in the resulting paperdrifts, flailing goofily to catch the falling sheets. Their photosnapping attempts to capture what is, essentially, an experience, didn’t fare much better.
It’s always good to see a Tobias Rehberger, even if it’s taped off like a crime scene; and they thankfully purged a lot of the tchotchkes that made the sculpture hallways so avoidable.
One thing I don’t understand, though, is the Hirshhorn’s embarassing practice of selling its old mail. Seriously. There are two milkcrates in the giftshop, full of minor auction catalogues, reports, and obscure 1970’s exhibition brochures from other museums. Priced are based solely, it seems, on binding type. It’s enough to make me take a stand, Tyler Green-style: lose the trash bins. Or, at least, start throwing out more interesting stuff.
At the Hirshhorn Museum yesterday (originally to see the Ernesto Neto installaion before it closed), I kind of fixated on the work of Anne Truitt, which is in the “Minimalism and its Legacy” installation on the lower floor.
I wasn’t familiar with Truitt’s work, but a quick Google search shows an embarrassingly long and distinguished career (embarrassing for me not to know about it, that is). Go ahead, try it. Truitt was a central figure (along with Judd and Andre, but “championed,” for better or worse, by Clement Greenberg) in the emergence of Minimalist art in the 60’s. Yet unlike the canonical Minimalists, her work never sought the complete elimination of content. It seems obvious to me (although no shows seem to have been done to examine it) that the surge of artists using minimalist vocabulary (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Robert Gober and Ellen Gallagher are among the most obvious) to biographical, emotional and political effect can relate directly to Truitt’s work. (One of Truitt’s earliest sculptures was–and wasn’t, of course–a section of picket fence, which suggests Gober’s various playpen/crib sculptures.)
Surprisingly, Truitt’s still alive and cranking away (although from the tone of this interview in Artforum, “cranking” isn’t the steely-yet-genteel artist’s style) right here in Washington, DC. And looking at the consistency of her more recent work, she continues to pursue her interests, while being somewhat inexplicably underappreciated by the current art world/market. [Here is Daybook: The Journey of an Artist, Truitt’s well-reviewed diaries. Buy it. I did.]
Oh, the Neto piece is great, btw. I’d seen a couple of less successful ones lately and wondered if he’s been in a slump, but the strong sculptural quality of this one was really nice. Since it was rice and styrofoam, it didn’t smell, but it did have so many visual references to genitalia (think mons, orifices, and billygoats moving away from you, not the “wombs” the brochure delicately alluded to) that an arts funding crisis would’ve broken out if conservatives didn’t feel oh-so-comfortable with their grip on this town right now.