Saturday, 22 January 2011
Gabriel Orozco is ‘lightweight’ apparently. According to Jackie Wullschlager in the FT at least. Maybe she’s got a point. But then she goes on to say that “no visitor can fail to be delighted by its elegance and imaginative wit”. She’s speaking about LA DS, one of Orozco’s most recognisable works, the old Citroen he found in a scrap yard in Paris, sliced lengthways into three, removed the middle chunk and the engine and then squashed back together to form a very skinny ex-car capable of going exactly nowhere.
So she likes that one then. And because she likes it she automatically concludes that ‘no visitor can fail to be delighted by it….”. Tiny bit subjective peut-etre? Subjectivity is, of course, fine. It’s impossible to be anything other than subjective. But what we can do is acknowledge that subjectivity, rather than project our every unprocessed whim onto the entire human population. Frankly, that seems to me to be a bit lightweight.
Although it urks me even to begin to agree with an opinion so dated and out of touch in its self-importance, I have to acknowledge that I did experience an absence of chutzpah in the atmosphere at the Orozco exhibition that I found difficult to get to grips with. Something seemed to be missing.
Sometimes one enters an exhibition and finds the raw energy pounds off the work with such vitality and authenticity that it enters the viewer’s body viscerally before one’s even really looked at or begun to engage with it intellectually. Something more elemental than rationalisation and critique is going on. And that’s a very exciting thing. For me, that’s the power of art that’s akin to the divine; the experience of life and art and something else, some unnameable magic, merging into an experience that can be, if we let it, thunderously meaningful. Something so significant it goes beyond the reasoning mind and its constant need to label, order and control.
For me that didn’t happen with Orozco’s work. Something fell a bit flat. There were objects and sure they were quite interesting objects. Possibly about the idea that we’re so busy thinking we’re going somewhere that we’ve failed to notice that actually we’re going nowhere. The car has no engine, the box no shoes, the elevator no shaft etc. And then, of course, the skull and the obits; the momento mori; we’re all going to die. The lint; we’re ephemeral. Yes, quite. It’s all good old fashioned art historical stuff, presented in a pleasing contemporary-ish way.
There was no growl in the belly though. No meat on the bone. No raw power. Even so I can’t help finding it a bit limited as a critic, as an art historian, as a human being, to assume that any shortcoming one experiences in an exhibition is somehow the direct result of a shortcoming on the part of the artist. Maybe that lifelessness in the atmosphere had its own point to make. The work is, after all, concerned with death, transience, impermanence.
What I did have a problem with though was the curatorial decision to try and bulk out the sculptural work with a sea of photography. I wonder if this didn’t perhaps add to the air of listlessness, giving the impression that neither artist nor curator were confident enough in the sculptural work to let it hold the space. Maybe this stuff would have been much more powerful if its thunder hadn’t been stolen by an overwhelming set of own goals. You can’t show everything. Sometimes bold choices have to be made.
Seeing on the video as we left Orozco’s assertion that actually the work isn’t banal, simply the viewer has to put effort in as well, also felt sad and undermining. Obviously it’s true. The viewer will only ever get back what the viewer puts in. But that the artist feels the need to explain that before the viewer has even entered the space doesn’t garner confidence. Maybe confidence is the key. Faith, confidence, belief. Doubt crept in at a fundamental level. Artistic doubt. Curatorial doubt. Once doubt has got it claws into you you’re doomed. We’re all doomed. Even bloody Wullschlager and her naive universalising assumptions. Doomed.