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A Whale of a Return to MoMA

December 14, 2009
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Biblioteca Vasconcelos, Mexico City

Gabriel Orozco’s “Mobile Matrix,” a whale skeleton fitted onto a metal armature and inscribed with graphite rings and circles.

By DEBORAH SONTAG

SIXTEEN years ago the Museum of Modern Art granted a little-known Mexican artist his first solo show in the United States. Then 31, peripatetic and studio-less, the artist, Gabriel Orozco, who belonged to a new generation rebelling against the expensive manufactured art objects of the 1980s, endeavored to produce as fresh and serendipitous a museum exhibition as possible.

Rejecting the pristine gallery used byMoMA’s Project Series for emerging artists, Mr. Orozco chose instead the museum’s nooks and crannies: a space between escalators for a scroll of phone numbers, a corner of the sculpture garden for a hammock between trees. What many remember best about that small show was a whimsical piece not even in the museum itself: “Home Run,” an arrangement of fresh oranges in the apartment and office windows across 54th Street.

Mr. Orozco’s return to the museum, for a 20-year survey of his work that opens on Sunday, is quite different. It is as concrete as the first show was ephemeral, as planned as it was improvised and as splashy as it was quiet, with a mammoth, elaborately produced art object at its center: “Mobile Matrix,” 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.

At 47 Mr. Orozco is no longer the footloose wanderer, toothbrush, notebook and camera in hand, who found poetry in puddles and dignity in debris, dung and dryer lint. Still experimenting with new materials — cactuses, most recently — and varying modes of expression, he is nonetheless far more rooted, some say far more conventional, than the young artist crashing at his girlfriend’s New York University dorm room during his first MoMA show.

Read more at: Art: A Whale of a Return to MoMA

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