On November 13, sculptor Gabriel Orozco (born 1962, Jalapa, Mexico) and art historian Benjamin Buchloh had a public conversation at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The occasion was the opening of Orozco’s exhibition, Asterisms, which closed at the Museum on January 13. Orozco’s installation was in two parts: Sandstars displayed collected detritus from the sea washed ashore onto a protected beach in Isla Arena, Mexico; Astroturf Constellation categorized and displayed found objects by color and scale that the artist and his team unearthed from the Astroturf on a playing field in Lower Manhattan. Sandstars is a vast collection of 1,200 objects organized directly onto the gallery floor. Astroturf Constellation also used 1,200 objects, however the project was shown on a hip-high platform under a vitrine and the collected pieces were diminutive by comparison.
For these projects, Orozco is working within a tradition of removing found objects from their conventional site. He transforms mundane castoffs into sculpture and empowers the viewer to re-think consumer culture and the power of the everyday. The discarded pieces differ according to scale. Sandstars included sea-soaked wood logs; blue and clear light bulbs; buoys in various colors; green, blue, clear and amber bottles; and several construction hats. Astroturf Constellation featured crumpled but shiny discarded foil candy wrappers; rubber bands; wads of chewed chewing gum; cigarette butts and cigar stubs. (The artist photographed the pieces individually and these images hung on the gallery walls adjacent to the installation.) Perhaps Orozco’s materials propelled the viewer to the question if throwaways are ever truly tossed and lost.
As part of the dialogue, Buchloh described Orozco’s work as a “transformation of the readymade” and placed the artist in the context of others who had re-presented the found object: Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Jean (Hans) Arp and, more recently, Arman and Claes Oldenburg. Orozco’s objects are “detached from function value and exchange value,” according to Buchloh.
Orozco described his process of accumulating pieces of debris and the potential for creating works of art from typically overlooked things. “I am intrigued by every single material in the world,” he said. With these materials, the artist does not simply lift the object from one physical and sociological context and plunk it into another. Rather, Orozco described a rigorous process of identification and accumulation. It is a taxonomic method where objects are arranged by type, form and color. “It’s not just accepting chance,” he explained. “It has to be explored, analyzed. You have to start exploration into the shapeless. It is a morphology of the shapeless.” Orozco later explained: “The reason I order the objects is to show them with more clarity. I wanted to have a sense of the constancy.”