“The poetic and the everyday”
Curator Joan Young on Gabriel Orozco’s Commission for the Deutsche Guggenheim
Orozco is as inspired by art history as by the streets of Berlin or
Mexico City. But it was the objects he found on the shores of a Mexican
nature reserve and the artificial lawn of a New York ballpark that
moved the 1962-born artist to create his commissioned work "Asterisms"
for the Deutsche Guggenheim. Joan Young, Director of Curatorial Affairs
at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, curated Orozco’s current
exhibition project together with Nancy Spector. In an interview, she
describes how "Asterisms" came about and explains how Orozco helps us see
the things around us in a completely new way.
||Achim Drucks: He divides his time between France, United States and Mexico, actualizes his projects and exhibitions all over the world. Is Gabriel Orozco the quintessential contemporary nomadic artist?
This characterization seems quite accurate in that wherever he is,
Orozco is a keen observer who then communicates his observations to a
How would you describe Orozco’s importance for the contemporary art scene?
think he has definitely been an influence on contemporary artists,
particularly in terms of the multitude of media in which he works. He
has a very open practice and readily responds to the variety of
environments that he finds himself in. I also think of the nature of
play and games he engages in his works. You can see his influence not
only on the group of artists from Mexico City that he has impacted
there, but really across the globe.
You are curating Orozco’s exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim together with Nancy Spector. How did the project come into being and how did it evolve?
The Guggenheim Museum has long been interested in Orozco and has collected a number of his photographic works.
This program of commissions that the Deutsche Guggenheim has enabled us
to do has often been an opportunity to work further with artists with
whom we had relationships or wanted to build a deeper relationship. So
we approached Gabriel Orozco to ask if he would be interested and he
agreed. It took some time to develop a project that would really
respond to the exhibition space and to this time in his own career.
What he has come up with is something new that is still very much in
tune with his practice and his prior artmaking.
Orozco’s Deutsche Guggenheim commission responds to the environment of
Isla Arena, Mexico. What is so special about this island? And what
meaning does it have for the artist?
There are actually two
components to the commission. One deals with New York and one with Isla
Arena. These projects evolved nearly simultaneously. In New York Orozco
was playing soccer in a sports field near his home; he also went there
to throw boomerangs, which is one of his hobbies. He noticed certain
kinds of materials that lay on the field. They were left behind by
various users of the space and he started to collect this material.
With Isla Arena he had been there previously. It was the site in which
he found the whale skeleton from which he created Mobile Matrix (2006), which now hangs in the Biblioteca Vasconcelos
in Mexico City. The island is basically a sand bank in a bay where grey
whales come to mate, give birth, and sometimes also return to die. It
is a national conservation area and not accessible to the public. He
was only able to get there with special permission from the government.
While looking for the skeleton he also noticed the amount of refuse and
detritus on the beach. What he found on the playing field in New York
reminded him of that experience. And so he returned to the island with
the idea to collect some of the residue that has been washed ashore by
The sculptural part of the artwork “Sandstars” is a
carpet-like work made of objects found on the beach of Isla Arena. The
glass bottles, floaters of fishing nets, or stones are arranged
according to their material, color, or size. These typologies remind me
of the way biologists try to classify certain species. Or one could
think of an archaeologist who presents his findings. Could one regard
Orozco as a kind of archaeologist of the present?
that is what he had in mind in terms of dealing with these materials.
He was thinking about the way that scientists approach and present
their materials and how it is that information is organized. I think he
recognizes that all of these systems of organization are subjective and
personal to some extent. Orozco explores these means of communicating
information, but in a very personal language.
the found objects, one is reminded of pollution and its consequences
for the environment. But at the same time, at least some of these
objects possess a great aesthetic appeal. How important are themes like
nature versus culture or the mundane and the poetic for Orozco’s work?
are important themes across his oeuvre – the poetic and the everyday is
something that he has often captured, especially in his photographic
works that often feature incidental sculptures that he encounters and
records. In a way, this project is simply a presentation of the
material that he has encountered, but through the arrangement the sorts
of beauty, uniqueness, and exceptional qualities of these materials are
This “sculptural carpet” is accompanied by grids of photographs taken in the studio. How do these works add to the installation?
photographs further demonstrate the scientific approach that he has
taken to these materials that he’s gathered. Each object is
photographed individually in the same format and under the same
conditions. Each object can be looked at individually and is, in a way,
equalized. By doing so, each object is reduced or enlarged to basically
the same size. This provides the viewer with a different perspective on
the object. It is very interesting to compare the two works – Astroturf Constellation, the piece from the New York City playing field, and Sandstars, the piece from Mexico. Astroturf Constellation
is composed of these small fragments. Through the photographs each of
these objects is actually enlarged. So a shift of scale takes place
there. The reverse happens in the Sandstars piece, where the
photo reduces the object in size. The equalizing that occurs through
the medium of photography highlights the relationships between the
objects in both works. There is this shift between the macro and the
micro, between whole objects and fragments of objects. There are many
formal similarities between the two projects, such as the prevalence of
certain colors, shapes, materials. The projects make you ponder the
material world in which we live.
What role does the medium of photography play in Orozco’s work in general?
me what it most exemplifies is the way Orozco sees the world, which
then informs all the other types of work he creates. Photography
reveals his unique view on the world, although it can be more than a
recording instrument. It can shift your perspective, illuminating
things that you often don’t notice, that you usually pass by.
Like his famous photography „Sleeping Dog“ (1990).
Much of his photography is so quiet and so seemingly simple. The
photographs encourage you to look at his sculptures or other works in
that very careful, quiet way so that you begin to notice their
particular shapes, forms and textures.
If you think about the
title of the exhibition, “Asterisms,” there also seems to be a kind of
cosmic dimension to these projects.
They are composed of
individual objects or elements that can possibly be linked in the way
that stars are understood to be grouped in the sky. Orozco gathers
these materials in which viewers might see certain connections – as if
they were a constellation. There is an infinite number of stars and
these artworks might be considered a kind of metaphor for the seemingly
infinite number of objects in the material world around us.
Gabriel Orozco: Asterisms
July 6 - October 21, 2012
Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin