Orozco and the treaure house of art


I can’t for the life of me remember why I was so bad-tempered the first time I saw a show of Gabriel Orozco years ago in New York. Orozco’s mid-career retrospective at Tate Modern (till 25 April) seems so genial and ingenious and above all so modest. It puts together a body of well-made and various work: good photographs, peculiar abstract paintings, found objects (usually modified), small sculptures in terracotta or plasticine, larger ones made from burst tyres or lint from the laundromat, etchings, drawings, and some show-stopping art-world toys: a squeezed Citroën DS, a version of billiards with the red ball hanging from a Foucault pendulum-string (you’re invited to play and it’s fun), an empty shoebox on the floor. Maybe when I saw Orozco in New York in the 1990s I was still partly living in the past. The found objects and useless devices seemed to issue from a dim Dada high ground, and therefore I expected them to hurt, or be biting. But they were friendly. They asked me and the art world to calm down. Art was play. And I see now what the best critics saw then: that this was a welcome, post-adolescent reaction to the Sturm und Drang of the previous decade – all those Nazi/anti-Nazi pictures made from straw and dung – and also, possibly, a way of keeping the Dada flame lightly burning. Well, possibly – that remains the Orozco question.

more from T.J. Clark at the LRB here.