Lately I've been drawn to found objects as sculptural material, which when you strip away the art term is simply garbage.
I've been collecting mine, color-coding the weekly accumulations of cereal boxes, salsa jars and soup cans in bags stacked in rows in my studio, as well as things I would ordinarily throw away from bras and unwanted shoes to broken umbrellas and dead pens. All of which will finally make its way onto the walls of Seattle's Joe Bar in March in a show called Bio, curated by Ben Beres.
So I was excited to read about Gabriel Orozco's current show at the Guggenheim Gabriel Orozco: Asterisms, reviewed here by Ken Johnson for the New York Times comprising assembled objects from a beach in Mexico and an astroturf playing field in New York.
I'm a big admirer of Orozco's work, particularly his painted photographs, as well as his sculptures and installations.
As with any review, I read Ken Johnson's in the New York Times with a grain of salt. How can I know until I experience a show myself how it might strike me?
- Mr. Johnson finds the show lacking on the interpretive side. "Imaginative liftoff stalls at ground level," he aeronautically asserts. In the absence, apparently, of text from the artist, the writer does what good critics do: He shares his own interpretations of the exhibit, "one literal and one metaphorical".
I particularly like his observation about alchemy and "the transformation of detritus into art and chaos into order" as a means to transcend states of being.
However the more I think about his criticism that the show "offers raw information with limited transformational vision," the more I think that, while it could be seen as lacking on the part of the artist to simply assemble the objects and leave it to the viewer to interpret them, on the other hand, the assembling could also be in itself the interpretation.
The artist has the idea. He collects the objects and arranges them a certain way. Each of these contains a creative, decision-making process. Then he gets out of the way.
As with any show of found objects or trash, I can never resist laughing at them a little at the same time that I respect their impact. Objects are humble on the one hand but with a kind of dignity on the other. One only has to think of a Morandi still life, or better yet stand in front of one to experience this truth.
Morandi did not explain his still lifes. The act of painting those particular objects involved a series of decisions. His painting of them was itself the interpretation. Standing before one, you can experience them as you choose and say what you like about them, but they are indifferent to your interpretation. They sit there humming and buzzing with life. They don't need your interpretation to be complete, but they don't exclude or predicate your experience, either.
Is there something about looking at art made of actual objects that's different from viewing a painting of objects? I would say yes. Perhaps because the room for interpretation is wider. The installation artist has fewer means with which to say, "Look! This is how I see these bottles, with their edges all wobbly, and almost as flat shapes," as a painter does.
The installation artist who uses found materials can choose to make other stuff out of the found stuff, forming the stuff into new objects. or she can simply arrange the stuff a certain way. That decision becomes very much a part of the art, since it is one of the only ways in which she can direct our experience.
Are words needed, too?
Perhaps selecting and arranging the objects and leaving the rest to the viewer is not a lack on the artist's part but rather a gift to the viewer. It respects the viewer's ability to interpret the show for herself without informing her how to think about it, as wall tags and show statements so often do.
While less information might in some instances reveal lazy thinking on the artist's part or a lack of clarity or conviction, allowing the show to speak for itself can be a strong and deliberate choice that says as much or more about the artist's intent. To know which of these ways 'Asterisms' strikes me, I'd have to see the show myself.