Olu Oguibe, Composition with Blue, Red and Yellow, 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Olu Oguibe, Composition with Blue, Red and Yellow, 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Olu Oguibe

Galleria Giampaolo Abbondio

The works in Olu Oguibe’s “Cuba Project,” 2019, which developed out of a visit to a steelworks in Matanzas, Cuba, in February 2019, were made mainly out of discarded metal elements left over from the factory’s manufacturing process. In this exhibition, the artist presented them as he found them, without any modifications, albeit in carefully calculated groupings that suggested he has a scholar’s taxonomic instincts. It was not by chance that his introduction to the show was a display case, Untitled (all works 2019), filled with small rusty objects, salvage on a miniature scale, which he also preserved as painted images in watercolor on paper.

For the most part, however, Oguibe lent the objects he had collected new life through the multiplication of identical elements, often in site-specific installations where the exhibition context contributed to their formulation. Form in Arrangement of Twelve, for example, consisted of twelve rusty basins, perhaps parts of gas tanks, each resting on a cylindrical metal base. Composition with Steel Discs covered the floor with more than forty disks, arranged in no apparent order, while in Form with Steel and Wood, a series of steel rings placed upright on the floor, some painted white, others brown with rust, were supported by a wooden beam to form a ramshackle, stretched-out cylinder. Other smaller rings made up Composition with 24 Steel Rings, in this case hung one next to another on the wall, in an orderly and elegant grid.

While Oguibe’s materials brought to mind Arte Povera installations, the serial organization of the works recalled Minimalism. The artist’s statement was revealing: “Beside form which was my primary focus, I was interested also in the broad spectrum of color possibilities in industrial steel that do not require additional intervention. Even the range of rust is fascinating, and certainly suggests that the monochrome tendency of much minimalist sculpture is perhaps mannerist and unnecessary.” In fact, what interests the artist when he rummages through piles of discarded metal forms is the morphology of the found material, and above all “the potent resonance of form.” He finds the essence or potential of this resonance when he observes what passes through his hands, even by chance, and it is strongest when such found objects are installed as artworks in an exhibition.

“Cuba Project” also included more self-contained works that have a powerful iconicity. Altar (for Olabisi Silva) consisted of a skeletal steel cylindrical structure that served as the pedestal for a basin of the same material; the rust that pervaded the entire structure allowed the viewer to think of it as an archaic tribal object connected to some long-forgotten ritual. Forms with Blue Tower evoked an urban landscape, juxtaposing two low, misshapen objects with what seemed to be an old blue furnace with several large holes in it. Composition with Blue, Red and Yellow was a grouping of four elements on a shelf; two containers with residual traces of yellow and red paint were positioned in front of a blue vertical metal sheet pocked with holes and abrasions. In keeping with the modernist-style title of the work, the assembled objects assumed the immobile composure of a Giorgio Morandi still life.

Translation from Italian by Marguerite Shore.