Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Whale of Gas

Alfredo Triff

This article by Deborah Sontag in The New York Times, dedicated to Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Orozco, is ponderously vacuous.

Click on "Multimedia," and stop by Orozco's Hirst-like Mobile-Matrix, which is described as:

... a whale skeleton excavated from the sands of Baja California, fitted onto a metal armature and intricately inscribed with graphite rings and circles by a team of 20 members who exhausted 6,000 mechanical pencil leads.

Why do we need to know that 6,000 mechanical pencil leads have been "exhausted" by a team of 20 members-workers? A clever way of describing what we don't see to buttress what we need-help-with-seeing. Suddenly, the marks, explained as human labor onto the armature, are worth our attention. Let me insist on this point: Human labor is important enough to explain that Mobile-Matrix is not just a "ready-made," and that 6,000 divided by 20 = 300 pencil leads per person is enough wage-labor to justify Orozco's sculpture.1

In Duchampian fashion, the whale qua whale2 = the whale-ready-made3 is as valid and interesting as Orozco's embroidered version, but that's not my call.

Mobile-Matrix characterizes a paradigm of spectacle that contemporary art cannot live without: Art is supposed to oomph you!4

In the multimedia to Sontag's article one reads:

In 1993, the year that he created "La DS," Mr. Orozco's career took off with multiple exhibitions. Among them was one that Marian Goodman arranged at the Venice Biennale, where he showed "Empty Shoebox," (below) an open cardboard box left on the floor to be kicked about. "It shocked everybody," Ms. Goodman said. "He has a lot of courage in what he does and can be quite radical."

I excuse Ms. Goodman, Orozco's dealer, for the hyperbole: That's is exactly the kind of mythologizing she is supposed to propagate. But then, Sontag produces this sentence:  

Still, Mr. Orozco likes to disappoint; it is almost a credo of his. "I want to disappoint the expectations of the one who waits to be amazed," he has said.

Deborah, wake up and open your eyes: Orozco cannot possibly have a "credo to disappoint" and go on to produce his ponderous Mobile-Matrix for his MoMA retrospective! Or else, he's so deluded not to see that he's not "really" disappointing, but playacting the pretend-to-disappoint political game, which feeds into the "appointing" of his image as enfant terrible.  

Worse yet, what self-aggrandizement can motivate Orozco to actually believe he can amaze people so much that he ought to willfully disappoint in order to level the field!


1How much do you think Orozco's crew got paid: $8, $10, $20 an hour? I bet you think I'm bluffing. But the release of the actual wages would present Mobile-Matrix under a totally different light: It would help our understanding of the making of art-making -by artists and the system behind them. You think that what really makes for the final piece is the intensity of human labor, but labor qua labor is critically and institutionally concealed behind the artist's name!  2That's exactly what this bottle-rack is:

3 From a art conceptual standpoint, the graphite marks on the whale's bones shouldn't more relevant because of the human labor put into it, which paradoxically is why Sontag goes at length to detail it. So, Orozco's marks qua marks become a paltry add-on. 4Mobile-Matrix incorporates 2nd and 3rd generation "conceptual" production-strategies: the Fordist-like assembly-line, 

 Cildo Meireles' Coca Cola Project, 1970.

and the more recent art haute-couture (the specialized, high-end, aristocratic conceptualism of Jeff Koons):

Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988 (life-size sculpture)

In these days of 10% unemployment, "mechanical reproduction" may not be as cool. What critics and journalists don't mention is that a lot of what used to be called "craft" (let's call it "the making of art making") is now done by contracting specialized labor. What does this surrender of craft mean? 1- Subcontracting is a safe way of putting up a bigger (and more varied) output. Nobody cares that Koons is not a ceramist or is not an expert at glazing or that Jean Michell Othoniel is not a enameled glass expert. 2- On the other hand, the artist becomes a designer. One who conceives and produces.   
Marveled at Koons' Puppy, Jerry Saltz enthused on artnet.com that it was possible to be "wowed by the technical virtuosity and eye-popping visual blast" of Koons's art. Charlie Finch mordantly advances:
Hush, giant Puppy,
don't you cry,
Koonzy's gonna buy you
a piece of the sky.
where you can lift your leg
and wiggle your butt
and urinate on Koonzy's old smut
of Jeff copulatin'
with his Italian bride-
Put on skates, giant Puppy
and glide, glide, glide...
"Puppy Chow," by Charlie Finch.


Anonymous said...

Nice. A really unusual take.

Anonymous said...

Excellent take Triff. But how much is the labor? Numbers please!?

R.L.R. said...

Great piece of art criticism, Triff.
Orozco's piece is beautiful cause the whale skeleton naturally have a harmonic golden-section shape. He and his crew only decorated it. But I guess that's the main content of this artwork...

Anonymous said...

Que bueno! Wow! Sentido! Sense! Good Sense! The will to "disappoint" shouldn't perceived as a "self-aggrandizement" - it's just a way to convey a message, - as common as the will to "please" through beauty, for instance. Have you ever ask been bothered by an art that is extremely beautiful? I have, it has insulted me more sometimes that act of irreverence - just a tool.

Anonymous said...

A tool for communication.

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks anonymous.

Don't know about the numbers. Maybe Orozco can volunteer that info.

The will to "disappoint" shouldn't perceived as a "self-aggrandizement" - it's just a way to convey a message, - as common as the will to "please" through beauty, for instance.

Maybe, but I don't think there is any will to disappoint here. Rather the opposite. Bothered by art that is extremely beautiful? Good question. Donno, where is that art? Thanks for visiting.

miamibourbaki said...

Thanks RLR. True, a whale/skeleton is conceptual enough.

Anonymous said...

Nice points Triff. This is the kind of writing we need to burst the silly artificial bubble & the speculation of art.