New York

Gabriel Orozco

Typically Gabriel Orozco operates as flaneur and bricoleur, with a fugitive, arranger’s touch (oranges or cans of cat food strategically placed and photographed; mobiles made of toilet paper, dryer lint, and plastic bags). But he has also produced some expensive, highly finished things (a reconfigured Citroën DS automobile; a full-size, pocketless billiard table). At the core, Orozco’s sculptural concerns are patrimony from ever-generous Old Uncle Marcel—eros, humor, motion, game theory, a backhandedly voluptuous insistence on mixing accident with intentionality, appropriating commodity objects and fabricating raw new ones. He likes to make his process visible and push poetic balance up to, but not past, the tipping point.

What Orozco doesn’t usually do is shape abstract three-dimensional forms from “neutral” or nonreadymade materials. He has consistently shown interest in such formal problems as aerodynamics, weightlessness and mass, isolation and accretion, cuts and sutures. But he has rarely let such interests take technical control, to explore in depth the plasticity and texture of a particular medium—in the case of his most recent exhibition, poured polyurethane foam. The show comprised three full rooms of fifty works (all 2003): Some of them simply failed, were lumpish, slapdash, inert; and some were among the most beautiful things Orozco has yet made.

The polyurethane foam is pale beige and lightweight and yields different finishes and contours depending on how it sets. Polished, fine-grained textures and deliberate geometries derive from being poured onto acetate; bubbled irregularities bespeak air-drying. The material can pool into baroque curves, bulbs, and cones but is also strong enough to hold the slenderest arabesques. In some works, aleatory trajectories of specific flows remain whole, while in other places Orozco has sliced and attached segments so that sharp cross sections play against smooth arcs and nubbly patches. Some pieces incorporate cotton or steel and aluminum mesh onto which blobs of the pale goop are dolloped. Other works are not blond but black, with pigment mixed into the medium.

Parceled through the rooms, the objects fell into three rough categories. The back gallery was crammed with floor-based, wall-mounted, and ceiling-hung experiments, many incorporating mesh armatures. It looked like a storage area in some model shop (sci-fi movie creatures? space-shuttle panels?). Too visually messy to arrive at seriality and too variously modeled to generate shared allusions, the agglomeration was a lively failure.

Conversely, or similarly, the black-pigmented works in the north gallery, centered on a group of floor-based spheres that mimicked cast metal and could have come from any Minimalist warehouse, seemed too controlled. Here, the best moments arose when the black foam suggested skate-egg sacs
or seaweed: bedraggled bits of organic matter mimed in hardened, toxic, man-made froth.

But the front room was a masterwork. Suspended from the ceiling were nine mobiles in cut and poured “natural”-hued foam, each a variation on the morphology of its fellows but each unique. The sculptures are the color of bone, or cake batter, or pissed-on ice, or corroded Styrofoam; their sweeping, torquing, fluted shapes suggest missiles and jawbones, wings and surfboards, seedpods, tail fins, flukes, nose cones, and cartilage. They look like Brancusis; like balsa-wood airplanes in a kid’s bedroom; like spun sugar. Turning slowly in ambient air currents, as installed the big, airy solids seemed to be gliding through an unknown element; it was pleasurable just to share their space. Eros, humor, motion, and game theory: See how many resonances bounce or flit or undulate through such a show. Try to figure out why they so satisfy.

Frances Richard