An intervention and an installation first drew gallerist Marian Goodman to Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. Both pieces were created in 1993 and both were, and still are, highly controversial. In the first, entitled La DS, Orozco sliced a 1960s Citroën into three parts, from front grill to tail, then seamlessly re-welded it without its middle section. For the second, he strategically placed an empty shoe box in the middle of a gallery floor where it vexed some people and left others wondering if it had been inadvertently discarded, but Goodman was in no doubt. She appreciated each of the two seminal “interactions” enough to give Orozco his first one-man, U.S. show the following year. Needless to say, it proved to be equally provocative, mainly because he nailed four Dannon yogurt lids onto the walls of an otherwise bare space and agitated some critics. Goodman remained unequivocal. “He was demonstrating his strength in conceptual art,” she says, and more than 20 years later, she still recounts his influence in pivotal terms.
Orozco lives between Mexico City (where he grew up), Paris and New York, where being a part from the cultural mainstream fuels his creativity. From an early age he assisted his father, an art professor and painter, who was often commissioned to create public murals; so by his teenage years he’d acquired strong attitudes about the way art should be viewed and perceived. Once he began producing his own work he never envisioned it appealing to the masses. He had an intimate audience in mind, one that invariably walks into a gallery with pre-conceived ideas, and from the outset, he aimed to “disappoint” their expectations in the hopes of tapping into a semblance of poetry that may lie at the core of their reaction.
Since he came to prominence in the early 1990s, his work has appeared in the Venice, Havana and Whitney Biennales, as well as major museums throughout the world. The singular, consistent characteristic is Orozco’s refusal to confine himself to one medium or discipline, and the range and scale variance of his output is extraordinary. He has inflated his own socks and filled them with papier maché; re-invented ping pong tables and chess sets; taken rubbings from Parisian metro stations; drawn with toothpaste-thickened spit; photographed watermelons wearing cans of cat food as hats. He has written critical essays, sculpted with wood, clay, sea shells, lint, polyurethane foam, concrete, roots and moss. He has decorated a whale skeleton, checker-boarded a human skull and carved river stones. He has gathered dust and displayed vast amounts of detritus he collected from a wildlife reserve and an athletic field as cultural artifacts.
Goodman, who opened her first gallery in New York in 1977, set up shop in Paris in 1995 and in 2014, she established an outpost in London. She commissioned architect David Adjaye to renovate two floors of a Victorian warehouse in the heart of Soho and gave Gerhard Richter the inaugural show at the end of last year. An exhibition of more than 40 of Orozco’s new sculptures, paintings, works on paper and wooden totems will take over the 11,000-square-foot, sky-lit space this summer. He’ll include framed swatches of vintage fabric, a series that evolved out of an extended stay in Japan where he studied with a master scroll painter. Like many of his drawings and paintings, they incorporate one of his leitmotifs, a spirographic design he has described as “another way in which I’m exploring space and happenstance.” There will also be a couple of fleeting moments he’s captured photographically. Like a beach scene depicting a feather implanted into sand as a wave approaches.