Another Green World: Aspen Award for Art recipient Gabriel Orozco at the Aspen Art Museum
If You Go …
What: Gabriel Orozco exhibition
Where: Aspen Art Museum
When: Through Dec. 18
How much: Free
More info: www.aspenartmuseum.org
Plastic yogurt lids standing on their sides. A lone empty shoebox on a gallery floor. Laundry lint collected from a laundromat and exalted as sculpture. Oranges (the actual fruit) placed in windows. A 12-sided Ping-Pong table.
The artist Gabriel Orozco has elevated the ordinary into the extraordinary over the course of his influential and adventurous career and broken new ground with his high concept work over the past three decades. In comparison, the recently opened exhibition of Orozco’s new painting, drawing and sculpture at the Aspen Art Museum might seem traditional or cautious.
But spend some time with the show, which includes a series of square green “landscape” paintings made specifically for Aspen, and you’ll find it’s not as simple as it seems.
Hosted in the large second-floor gallery at the museum, the exhibition includes the green paintings, minimalist geometric graphite etchings, small steel sculptures of connected orbs and works on glass — all with perfect (or nearly perfect) circles running through them as a motif.
“It’s about the spiritual, it’s about the political, it’s about the environmental, it’s about mathematics, geology, materiality and how things are actually made,” Aspen Art Museum director Heidi Zuckerman said during a preview walkthrough of the show late last month. “But, at its essence, it’s about being human and how we interact, not just with those around us and the environment around us, but how we know ourselves.”
Zuckerman visited the artist in his Mexico City studio last year to begin curating the Aspen show. When she saw the green paintings, she knew they would suit her mountain town museum.
“I saw these green paintings and I said, ‘These have to come to Aspen. They really make a lot of sense for us in terms of our environment,’” she recalled.
Orozco, who was given the Aspen Award for Art last week, had other ideas originally for the show. But the green abstracts, he agreed, were made for a place like Aspen, with an intense connection to the land. He’d been working and reworking the pieces, building them up in layers of paint, drawing circles on them, then scraping the paint away — creating a depth you can lose yourself in. As he shaped them (both sides of them) like sculptures, and scraped away at them, he found himself leaving mostly green.
“Every time that I applied the paint and I would redraw the thing and paint again, eventually I got tired and I was just doing green, green, green,” Orozco recalled in a talk at the museum last week.
He hadn’t seen the color — so familiar in field and forest — in painting in a long time.
“It is the color we use when we represent nature or something like that. … Obviously we know, especially here, all color is the color of our planet, of life,” he said. “But, for some reason, contemporary artists don’t use this color.”
He found the works behaved like sculpture because the unseen backside of them, for Orozco, are just as important as the front side.
In the Aspen show, these wild abstract green canvases cover one wall of the gallery. Each wall holds a distinct body of work, with the steel sculptures peppering all of them. In the middle of the gallery are panels of glass, pocked with patterns of circles connected by smaller circles — redolent of molecular shapes, engineering plans or the cosmos. The panels are laid out like a small maze, inviting viewers to walk through them. More importantly, for Orozco, they allow viewers to see other people navigate through them.
“The people become that organic thing, the movement,” he said.
A native of Jalapa, Mexico, Orozco is a global artist — he maintains studios in Mexico City and in southern Mexico, works often in New York and, over the past 18 months, lived mostly in Tokyo. His process often begins with photography, with passively receiving images rather than creating them, he said. In his wanderlust, he explained with a laugh, his true studio often fits in his pocket: “In a way, the notebook is my studio. There I have notes, sketches and things.”
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