New York

Gabriel Orozco

The words “Constructivism and Existentialism” could be discerned through the blur of text and images that comprised the small “drawings” (all 1992–95) hanging in the back gallery, a space dominated by a striking, oval-shaped billiard table. Some of the collages featured textual fragments—excerpts from daily newspapers or trade publications—others, images of domestic interiors culled from professional catalogues and decorating magazines, which were then covered with drawn or painted circular and oval shapes. In the front gallery, a similar combination of figurative images and formal shapes existed. Here, six photographs taken from the sports section of newspapers were enlarged and combined with computer-generated images so that a partial grid of circles and ovals, divided, say, into red, white, and blue quadrants, obscured sections of the depicted figures. When these strangely doctored photographs were first shown in Gabriel Orozco’s recent installation at an old London gentlemen’s club, the references to billiards and to cricket and football matches perhaps read as tongue-in-cheek cultural commentary: a series of light, humorous notes on the pastimes of the elite. When viewed in a New York gallery, however, this installation took on a more abstract, analytic dimension.

The colored circles began to read as links in a system of visual correspondences: a light-box, situated in a small viewing room, contained an image of circular shapes cut from red, white, blue, and yellow adhesive plastic; the oval-shaped billiard table sported three balls (one red, two white) on its green-felt surface; plastic trees grew out of white pots, their green leaves interspersed with scintillating white ovals. Thus, in this show Orozco wove colors, circles, and ovoid shapes into a physical and aesthetic order that alluded both to kinetic laws (the billiard table can be read as a visual illustration of the physical laws governing the interaction of three bodies in motion), and to John Baldessari’s Conceptual photographic pieces—that is, Orozco’s colored circles seem at times to reference the large discs with which Baldessari covered his subjects’ faces.

Viewed in this light, the phrase “Constructivism and Existentialism” begins to seem less like a puzzle and more like a clue to the significance of the exhibition as a whole. Orozco’s chain of circles and colored quadrants—elements that were the very foundations of Constructivism—become signifiers animated by a multiplicity of possible signifieds. It is curious, for example, how closely Orozco’s sinuous exhibition reflects the Brazilian Neo-Concretist rethinking of Constructivism as an elaborate form of subjective expression. That is, the Neo-Concretists attempted to use aesthetic language to understand and change the subject’s experience of daily life by making objects that were often formally complex but that depended on audience participation for their full meaning to emerge. Neo-concrete artist Lygia Clark, for example, developed a kind of therapy, based on the interaction of “patients” with simple, malleable objects, a praxis of art into life in which the spectator’s very relationship to his or her body became central. With his own system of circular shapes placed across everything from images of sports events to interior decorating to house plants, Orozco seemed to be engaging, albeit playfully, in much the same effort to erect a bridge between the aesthetic realm and everyday existence. Thus, this exhibition raised the possibility that Orozco’s oeuvre can be placed not only within a European and North American Conceptual tradition, but within a completely different art-historical genealogy, one that links Mexico City and Sago Paulo, Buenos Aires and Caracas, and that has long been identified with stretching the limits of artistic practice.

Carlos Basualdo

Translated from the Spanish by Christian Viveros-Fauné.