New York

Gabriel Orozco, Satellite View of North America, 2014, oil-jet painting, 15 × 9 × 4 1/2".

Gabriel Orozco, Satellite View of North America, 2014, oil-jet painting, 15 × 9 × 4 1/2".

Gabriel Orozco

Marian Goodman Gallery | New York

Gabriel Orozco, Satellite View of North America, 2014, oil-jet painting, 15 × 9 × 4 1/2".

Coming to Gabriel Orozco’s work a generation late, I find it difficult to imagine the impact it had when it was first presented to New Yorkers in the form of the legendary installation Yogurt Caps at Marian Goodman Gallery in 1994. The aggressive simplicity of that ultra-unassuming piece—it consisted of only four clear Dannon lids, one tacked to each of the walls of an otherwise empty room—was seen as deeply audacious, if not an affront. It was also, by most accounts, amazing, at once capturing and crystallizing a wide and diverse range of sensibilities then floating in the air in a way that felt so perfect, so right—these ranging from a wistful poetic ephemerality, the reclamation of quotidian detritus, an indexing of a plural body, and, perhaps most important, a dreamy nomadism and sprawling, ethereal post-national placelessness.

But what once seemed radical will not always be so. In the intervening years, our sensibilities have adapted, and the impulses Orozco followed in Yogurt Caps are now commonplace. The artist’s practice has grown accordingly, branching outward to touch upon a variety of heterogeneous approaches—from monumental readymades (the painted whale skeleton) to experiments in art-as-pedagogy (his “Spanish Lessons” at Marian Goodman Gallery last fall)—while also pursuing extended inquiries into more traditional media such as photography, sculpture, and painting. This show, which marks the twentieth anniversary of Yogurt Caps, was like three exhibitions in one. The north gallery hosted Inner Cuts, 2014, an installation consisting of twelve homemade boomerangs paired with offcut plywood scraps. The south gallery held a large presentation of geometric abstractions: a selection of drawings and paintings built from layered, semitransparent circles. The north viewing room, meanwhile, contained a suite of four works that build on the enduring themes of travel, communication, connectedness, and time.

The first of these four pieces is a simple found object: a wire holding a set of shoe patterns taken from the trash of a Mexican cobbler. In this context, the readymade brings to mind the figure of the urban wanderer, the flaneur, and resonates with a set of worn cell-phone cases that were placed on a shelf on the adjacent wall. A year ago, Orozco began placing stickers on cell-phone cases belonging to his globetrotting friends, and, to quote the press release, the phones “traveled to disparate locations and each bears individual effects of use over time.” These phone cases, returned to the artist and displayed here, update the figure of the flaneur to account for contemporary realities of international air travel and roaming digital connectedness, which ties the two pieces to Satellite Sputnik on Ashtray, 2014, a simple assemblage consisting of an ashtray imprinted with the image of the planet Earth, and a tiny commemorative model of Sputnik—a device whose launch in 1957 marked the opening salvo of the space race and the beginning of the satellite age.

The final work in the room is a picture of Earth on a black ground. Such photos of our planet from space are iconic, at once ubiquitous and overdetermined. In a different, more optimistic moment, the 1960s, it was thought that photos such as this—called the Blue Marble, the Whole Earth—had the capacity to shock the world into a new sense of social responsibility, communal global consciousness, and environmental awareness. But, as Susan Buck-Morss and others have remarked, the appearance of this picture in fact signaled a different kind of shift, heralding a disorienting period in which new technologies and economies began to thrust us, exhilaratingly, into a place of radical proximity—into the age of globalization.

Needless to say, the bright hopefulness once provoked by the image of a borderless world has dimmed, and Orozco has responded in kind by tarnishing the marble’s gleam. To create the image here, the artist used “a slow technical process that employs a machine to spray oil onto the canvas.” The final result has an interesting look: It appears, for lack of a better word, cheap—like an airbrushed image on a T-shirt. And so, this once-potent symbol and beacon of globalization’s promise is rendered out of fashion; it is returned to us, quietly, as kitsch.

Lloyd Wise