Gabriel Orozco / Saadane Afif
This outstanding exhibition is Gabriel Orozco’s first at the Centre Pompidou,
and the first opportunity to see his work in Paris since his exhibition “Clinton
is Innocent” at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1998.
Orozco, who lives in Paris for several months a year, has been closely involved in developing the project, helping to design, together with Centre Pompidou curator Christine Macel, an exhibition of more than 80 works that offers an overview of his career from the beginnings to today. It offers an opportunity to see drawings, photographs, paintings and sculptures from collections public and private in France and abroad, many of which have never been seen in this country before.
This exhibition at the Centre Pompidou follows shows at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Kunstmuseum, Basel; another will follow at Tate Modern, London. The Paris show is larger than the two preceding, in terms of both exhibition space and number of works exhibited.
Having begun to establish an international reputation in the early 1990s, Gabriel Orozco is now recognized as one of the leading artists of his generation. Constantly travelling, and without any fixed studio, Orozco rejects national or regional identifications, drawing his inspiration from the different places he has lived or stayed in. Born in Jalapa, Mexico, in 1962, he currently lives between Mexico, New York and Paris.
His open and constantly developing approach finds expression in works of widely varying scale in a great diversity of media, the artist showing equal ease, freedom and fluidity in photography, drawing, painting, sculpture and installation.
For this exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Orozco has come up with an original layout based on the idea of the studio. Doing without internal walls, labelling or commentary, the works are displayed in a simplicity that echoes the moment of their creation, before their appropriation by the museum and its apparatus.
Gabriel Orozco has been a renown figure of the international art scene since the early 1990s. An artist in constant movement, with no fixed studio space, he draws his inspiration from the sites he passes through and rejects the idea of national or regional identity. Born in 1962 in Jalapa, Mexico, he currently lives between New York, Mexico and Paris.
His endlessly evolving art produces pieces of varying scale in a diverse range of mediums. Photographs of his interventions in public spaces, fired clay sculptures, drawings, collages, reconfigured objects and paintings all figure his universe filled with elements from the urban landscape and human body. Incidents from daily life are central to his work which plays upon a poetry of chance and paradox. Boundaries between the art object and the everyday world are deliberately blurred, art is mingled with reality. Movement, expansion, circularity and the articulation between geometric and organic forms have been constant themes in his artwork for the past twenty years.
For this exhibition, the artist has chosen to leave the Galerie Sud open without walls. The works are placed in three lines, on the floor, on market tables and on the walls. The artist makes a connection between the gallery and its urban surroundings, in a dialogue with the adjacent street, the restaurant tables and the passers-by, recalling the importance of public space in his art. The pieces are displayed without labels, but accompanied by this leaflet and by interventions on the pages of a catalogue of the French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, which function like visual commentaries. The artist and the Centre Pompidou also present a performance conceived specifically for the exhibition involving actors playing the role of Mexican police guards “imported” to take care of the works.
Curated by Jean-Pierre Bordaz - curator at the Musée national d’art moderne, Contemporary Art Department
A full catalogue is published by Éditions du Centre Pompidou in co-production with MOMA, New York.
Major support for the exhibition is provided by the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CONACULTA), and Fundación Televisa
With the support of the Mexican Cultural Institute, the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education, as part of México 2010
Anthologie de l'humor noir
Prize winner of Prix Marcel Duchamp 2009
Here in Espace 315 Saâdane Afif presents a large, two-metre-long coffin in the form of the Centre Pompidou. On the basis of a very precise brief about the project, he has commissioned song lyrics from more than a dozen writers of his acquaintance, now displayed on the walls of the exhibition space. He also commissioned the aluminium cylinders – cast from a mould of one of the stone bollards surrounding the Piazza outside the Centre – on which, on the day of the opening, an actor will stand to declaim the words. This format – the production of objects combined with the commissioning of texts to detailed guidelines – has now become typical of an artist who describes himself as a « wordy conceptualist. » Behind the project is a desire to absorb and express a sense of the place, but the work also embodies a sprawling network of stories connected with the artist’s encounters in the making of it, for which it acts as a receptacle. To get others to write about and around his work is to bring it new forms and to prompt reflection on the notions of metamorphosis and shifting point of view. « It’s a method that allows the constant generation of mutations within the work, the mutation of forms. They mutate, rather than being transformed. My work can cite itself and it doesn’t get desiccated, because there’s always the input of others.»
Elaboration of meaning
All Saâdane Afif’s pieces work with multiple layers of meaning. They are anchored in a place,here the Centre Pompidou, around which revolve the artist’s own history and the histories of the Centre and of the people he has encountered in the context of the project, intersecting and interpenetrating, each adding a layer of meaning. Afif emphasizes the fact that it was at the Centre Pompidou he discovered art,visiting as a teenager. « When I was twelve. I lived in Blois. I used to go to my aunt’s in Ménilmontant to get away from the boredom of a provincial town. I learned to take the Métro all by myself, getting off the Ménilmontant line at Rambuteau. By then, the Piano and Rogers building was fully operational and it was very accessible. » The meeting place that is the Centre’s Forum is for him the locus of all possibilities, the place of intersection of all the currents. But why a coffin? « There are obviously a lot of possibilities. A coffin for the artist,for the artist’s work. And it reflects too the ideas of the avant-gardes about the death of art, the death of beauty, the death of painting and then the death of the artist: the museum as necropolis. It could be a Vanitas, which is a recurrent theme in my work. » This reference to the tradition of the Vanitas is an important aspect of all his projects. Behind the theme are many centuries of the history of art, here strikingly transformed into an object. Nonetheless, the artist rejects anything definite, anything that might resemble a fixed and finished form. The title of the exhibition indeed evokes many other narratives and references. « An Anthology of Black Humour »: taken from the title of an anthology by André Breton, it makes direct reference to Dada and Surrealism, while the exhibition has been organized in the context of the Marcel Duchamp Prize. The artist decided to baptize his coffin « Black Humour », and so the texts he commissioned about it may be thought of as forming an « anthology of black humour » in another sense. He also mentions the exhibition « Les Magiciens de la terre » at the Centre Pompidou and La Villette in 1989, where Ghanaian coffins in the form of animals, vehicles etc. were shown for the first time.
In presenting his coffin, Saâdane Afif re-presents this history. Indeed, he went to Ghana to have the coffin made, there meeting Kudjoe, a young artisan once the assistant to Paa Joe, who created coffins in extraordinary shapes. Adding a further layer of meaning, he mentions too the importance of African sculpture to the modernist tradition. Remembering the Centre Pompidou of his teenage years, Saâdane Afif also recalls the presence of soapbox speakers on the street. « When I was in Ghana, » he says, « I was fortunate to be invited to a funerary ceremony. There they spoke of the deceased as if he were living and told stories about him. In the end, this « soapbox » business gets its meaning from that day, very far from the Centre’s Piazza. » The multiple elements all gravitate around the history of a single place, while taking in Ghana, surrealism and Dada. They find themselves materialised in a group of objects and retransmitted in the lyrics that elaborate upon them.
« I work with writers who aren’t so much songwriters as people who can write, who enjoy writing. » These texts, which he describes as “outgrowths” of his work, contribute somethingextra to it, « through the imagination of others, raising one of the questions that I take to be fundamental: what responsibility do we have in bringing our attention to bear on works of art? How do we integrate them into the field of our own culture, in our own words? How does one interpret a work of art? How do we make a work our own? » In foregrounding the metaphorical relation between word and work, it is this that he invites visitor to do.
The centrality of the visitor
For Afif indeed, the visitor is a central figure. In this respect he is one of recent generation of artists to have taken the question of the viewer or visitor seriously. « I often sum up my work in the questions: Why do we make works of art? What needs do they meet? What do they do to the way I see the world? And so on. These are very straightforward questions, without a definite answer, which give me the energy to do things and the pleasure I take in that. » All these elements contribute to a work in constant movement. « I spend my time trying not to finish work. I end up showing finished moments, but they already point to something beyond.
When you have a sculpture with texts that speak of all the things I’ve just discussed, there is already a potential elsewhere, a potential future for the work. It’s the antithesis of wanting to fix and reify the work of art, which then becomes a sort of dumb idol. » For all that, the question of form is crucial for Saâdane Afif. « It’s not iconoclastic, it’s work that reflects on how one achieves form. Above all, the form of the exhibition, which is my favoured medium. Forms are important, they are the way-marks on our journeys. »
Image: Gabriel Orozco, My Hands Are My Heart, 1997
The Marcel Duchamp Prize on tuesday 14 september at 20PM
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