2016 / 09
A sense of tranquillity greeted me as I walked into the White Cube Gallery in Central. Neatly lining across a few planks of long wood mounted on the walls were tens of small watercolour paintings leaning against the impeccable white walls. Right away, I found myself at the centre of this space, encircled by delicate paintings that combined natural forms with abstract shapes. Standing at the centre of gallery, all the paintings lining the walls were of equal distance to me, prompting me to make active decisions about what and where to start. Nothing in the exhibition stood between me and the paintings- there were no overarching narratives or information written on the wall that one needed to toil through, there was no attempt to intercept the abstractness of the works. They were quick to engage but also slow to unfold.
In each of these paintings, grids were pencilled over the leaves and flowers first painted on the gold cardboards. And at the axial points of these grids, circles or part-circles were painted. These circular forms seem to interact with the natural forms behind them – one can tell the sizes of some circles were determined by, say, the point where a leaf ends and a stem begins. Some of these circles are close, some are opened, and not all the axial points of the lines were inhabited. These geometric shapes look as if they are animating the natural forms behind them - by the opening and closing of these circles they feel like the imaginations of movements of joints.
The geometric shapes are no mechanical drawings of course. They do not relate to functionality as in drawings of instructions. Rather, they relate to the natural forms behind them in a formalist way. While plants and flowers grow in soil, the grids and circles grow on top of the natural forms. The shapes relate to them in an abstract way and they render the symbolic values of the natural imagery redundant. If the subjects of natural forms so often proffer romantic feeling, here the geometric forms disrupt them. In these paintings, a flower has no more significance than if it were say, a lamppost, for the abstract patterns react to the images’ formal quality but not their symbolic values.
For Orozco, paintings of this lexicon dated back to at least 20 years ago, and it has since then been taken by many as a kind of signature of his. A work made in 1996 called Atomist: Making Strides shows a similar intervention on a picture of baseball player on a newspaper, while in another piece called Black Kites (1997) an actual human skull was covered by black graphite chequers through and through, in and out.
Orozco engages his materials in ways that do not yield to overarching themes to explain them away. It is as if each work plays its own game, each to its own rules. There is a sense of defiance in his approaches to the materials, and he tends to drive them to defunctness. He was made famous by the Empty Shoe Boxes (1993) he showed at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a work as literal as its name suggests, where people reacted by leaving money in it, and many has taken the work as an ironic statement on the money that drives and empties contemporary art. Or not, as when exhibited again in his retrospective at Tate Modern in 2011, the box and its (in)significance were left to the negligence of the viewers but the enthusiasm of journalists eyeing for catchy article titles. Yielding Stone (1992) consists of a big plasticine ball weighing the same as the artist himself, which was rolled out onto the street of New York, picking up whatever dust, dirt and imprints it on its way to a museum. Horses Running Endlessly (1995), now a collection of MoMa, is a modified and expanded chessboard of four hues of chequers, on which all the chess pieces are replaced with knights (which have the look of a horse). With whatever materials he comes into contact, Orozco’s preference is to disrupt their supposed usage, to reconceive of the ways these materials are imagined. It is as if someone says ‘you are not supposed to do this’, and he does it.
For a chess game (and in Orozco’s case the re-imagination of a chess game), a good and beautiful game lies not the wining and losing of it, for they ultimately have little to do with excitement or boredom that happen on the chessboard. Each of the paintings in this exhibition is like a game on its own, with each natural form demands and also allows responses differ to one and other. Some of these pictures are more ‘complete’ as in the geometric patterns occupy more of the paintings, while others were less, with much of the paintings inhabited by only a few scanty circles. This difference among them speaks of the success and failure of each attempt of ‘growing’ (in the word of the artist) these patterns, but the real importance lies not in their results but in the process and risk of building a formal relationship in the work.
The Mexican artist makes works as he moves around different countries. In this exhibition, as suggested by the title, are the works Orozco produced during his current stay in Tokyo. The gold cardboards he painted on are all in standard sizes, which he bought from an art supplier near where he now lives. The watercolour was applied in such a way that their transparency is preserved in the painting, as if the images and abstract shapes have only ephemeral presence on the gold surface.
These are certainly not works that hint at a messianic mission in changing the world, they do not build their merit on that, nor, for this matter, do work of art needs to. These are games, and games are fun, they surprise and frustrate, they ask for decisions making and also the elegance of it, and yes, you win and then you lose. Like the many abstract drawings that Sol LeWitt did, which are not made to please as pretty pictures (even if they eventually do), nor are they statements about abstraction. Rather, they are first and foremost games that play against the materials the artist has chosen. For Sol LeWitt they were mostly geometric shapes and patterns that he responded to with respect to the frames of pictures, which can take up the whole of a gallery space. I imagined Orozco shutting himself in his flat in Toyko (he didn’t make them in a studio) engaging in the ‘growing’ of these patterns, seeing these patterns repeated and differed, some excited him and some bored, as he was making decisions that answered to no one but himself - an exercise of harmless tyranny in a perfectly legitimated world of individuality.
討論作品：Gabriel Orozco - Suisai: Tokyo Strokes