Sunday, 3 April 2011

Literary Links: Orozco at the Tate Modern

It came as no surprise to learn that Mexico-born Gabriel Orozco studied for a while in Madrid. Transforming ‘found’ objects in an often surreal way that echoes Picasso, from an elliptical billiard table to a sliced-up Citroen, Orozco has all the master’s playful inventiveness without the macho posturing and sexual obsessions. At the same time Orozco’s very Latin-American religious sensibility is signaled in the iconic skull that appears on the exhibition poster, and in his fascination with decay and detritus. His sense of transience comes out particularly in works that include vehicles.

The show is well-curated, starting in a low-key style and leading up to the more complex pieces. The captions and displayed introductions are clear and helpful. Entertainingly bizarre items encouraged laughter, as in a tangle of bicycles, welded together and upended, photos of paired yellow scooters and tins of cat-food perched on water melons, the cut-in-half car and the displaced lift. I loved the chessboard and the quirky obituary headlines, also the interactive billiard table, although I sympathized with gallery staff’s anxiety about possible injury from a red billiard ball suspended on a wire.

The photos and money bills overlaid with harlequin circles were seemingly elegant comments on the mainly sporting subject matter, while similar patterns isolated and presented against differently coloured background conveyed a Paul Klee-like grace. They had the surprising quality of seeming both controlled and random.

Hanging sheets of dryer-fluff in the installation called ‘Sills’ I took at first glance to echo back-street washing lines but at closer range they are creepy, like dusty remnants of shrouds. Walking beneath them is a powerfully sinister experience, as is viewing the complete floor space of another room littered with discarded shreds of car-tyres, some big enough to have come from tractors.

Orozco’s art celebrates the man-made in gritty urban life and his transforming ‘interventions’ emphasize the symbolic in everyday objects. There’s a clear sense of the world as a system of signs that links Orozco to medieval symbolist art. His genius lies in perceiving and performing the tweaks that make deeper meanings emerge, a touch of the ‘magic realism’ that informs Latin American Literature.

The Gabriel Orozco Exhibition is at the Tate Modern until April 29th