The Pompidou Centre defeated by the Tate Modern (Gabriel Orozco)

After the catastrophic exhibition of Gabriel Orozco at the Pompidou Centre, I was eager to see his exhibition at the Tate Modern (until April 25). In principle, it’s the same exhibition in the four major museums (the MoMA in New York, and the Kunstmuseum of Bâle before the Pompidou), the same artworks (with a few exceptions), the same (excellent) catalogue, and yet they are like night and day. Where the Pompidou made a complicated, twisted, sealed-off exhibition misrepresenting the artist’s artwork (unbeknownst to him), with fake Mexican policemen, with works too far from the spectators to be seen, and with the incongruous spread of pages from a Lartigue catalogue- the curators of the Tate made an intelligent exhibition that was clear and accessible. I already hear the cries of conservatives that denounce the vulgarisation, guided pedagogy and absence of creativity associated with the English, whilst praising the intellectual brilliance tinged with humour on this side of the Channel. To be cured of this intellectual arrogance, go and take the Eurostar and find out.

It’s firstly a clear and aerated presentation of brilliant works here- not an incomprehensible pile of crammed-up work- but a progression, both chronological and thematic at the same time. For an artist whose fundamental approach is to reuse, reinterpret and to reconfigure- this emphasis placed on the essential and not the spectacle is quite pertinent. The generous space allocated to this exhibition permits rather monumental installations to be on display- next to the Citroen DS (which we can appreciate from close quarters), the Elevator, the four bicycles, and the Black Kites skull (which we can almost touch). Around the checkerboard of paint on the skull, marked by the notion of game, of chance, and of which we can see the squares transform into diamonds or lines that deform over the course, into cranial forms, the walls are posted with obituaries in this room dedicated to death: unnamed and undated obituaries, with just their title in the New York Times, a brief summary of the life of one man. Here, in an unseemly enigmatic manner the headlines read “Washerwoman who gave all she had to help others,” or pathetically, “Actor once wed to Shirley Temple” and ironically “Eccentric Even for England” in original typography, which we figure, reflects the importance of the article and the character depicted within (“Obit Series”).

In the largest room, the walls are adorned with a fresco of yellow scooters (titled Until you find another Schwalbe): these duos (there’s even a trio) are the photographic results of Orozco’s travels on his ‘Schwalbe’ in the streets of Berlin- in search of other identical scooters, in order to immortalise this encounter, this coupling of yellow frames. All are depicted in profile and point towards the right- certain photos were even inversed in order to attain the impossible quest: the quest for the ‘other’ (the other scooter driver, the passenger of the Citroen DS, and the lift companions are beautifully described by Jorge Macchi).

The exhibition gives Orozco’s themes sufficient amounts of space to develop, along with an entire room devoted to the theme of the chess Knight; a 16-square by 16-square chessboard of four different colours that is populated with 60 knights of the same colours, a Perecian nightmare (titled Horses Running Endlessly), and this same motif is used in the circular coloured diagrams on the walls (titled Samurai Tree Invariant). This generous allocation of space and progression is in contrary to the physically and intellectually restricted presentation of his works in Paris. His photography of simple and incongruous objects is very poetic; I also like his sense of ephemera (see Breath on Piano).

Three monumental installations are shown here that weren’t included at the Pompidou: an artwork of circular-shaped Carom billiards (with three balls and no pockets), titled Carambole with Pendulum and in which the red ball is suspended from a pendulum a few millimetres above the green table surface, presenting the game with irregularity concerning its rules, displacements, and upsetting the notion of Real. This artwork evokes Foucault’s pendulum, or Galilée’s lamp that I saw a few days before; but it is also a playful piece, where each person can take a cue and try out their luck (no Mexican policemen there !), experimenting with this discrepancy, much in the spirit of ordinary things according to Orozco. This essence of discovery and openness are particularly stimulating.

The floor of one of the rooms is covered with pieces of black rubber, relics of exploded tyres collected on the side of Mexican roads: there is a memory of the road and of accident, the transformation of ordinary materials, banal rubbish into memorial sculpture; little pieces of aluminium lighten this sombre piece titled Chicotes.

The last room is inhabited by soft ‘sculptures’ draped over hanging lines, not like light-hearted Neapolitan linen, but sheets of residue made from vegetable and human fibres- skin, hair and fabric that we find in the filters of dryers. This suspension of ghosts (titled Lint), shown for the first time in New York after 9/11, is quite morbid; on top of that, in order to cross it upon leaving the exhibition, if we are a little tall, and we want to avoid contact of the top of our heads with these discards, we have to tilt a little, to bend down as if passing through the Door of Humility (la Porte de l’Humilité): an excellent position whilst facing Orozco’s work- this combination of humility and engagement. It’s no doubt what was missing in Paris…

Texte en français

Photos 1 & 5 (edited) courtesy of the Tate. Black Kites 1997 Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. James P. Magill, 1997 © Courtesy of the artist; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; and kurimanzutto, Mexico City/. Chicotes 2010  © Courtesy of the artist and kurimanzutto, Mexico City. Image: Tate Photography

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