AUGUST CHALLENGE DAY 4
For the Silly Season I've set myself the challenge of visiting a different art exhibition on every day of the month and blogging about it.
Tuesday 4 August
Exhibition: Gabriel Oroczo
Place: Marian Goodman Gallery, London
These new works by the Mexican artist Gabriel Oroczo show off the Marian Goodman Gallery – which opened in London only last Autumn – to its very best advantage. Never having been in the gallery before I found two large light-flooded rooms each with a row of pillars, while two or three more intimate rooms are there on the side. The whole place is uniformly painted in the purest possible white and I much enjoyed the experience of walking around it.
So the gallery gets a fat tick, but what about the art? Oroczo has in recent years developed into a Big Beast in the contemporary art jungle, with weighty recent shows at MOMA, Tate Modern and White Cube. His human skull painted as a chequer-board drew much comment on in London and I admired it as a smart riposte to another recent skull, Damian Hirst’s blingy diamanté one. Like Hirst, Oroczo is basically a conceptual and 3-D artist who has also experimented with 2-D on canvas. There are half a dozen of these paintings on show here, all based on the same premise and so very similar to each other.
The paintings, which hang in the large upstairs space, use only the three primary colours – as well as white – varied only by the detail that yellow is gold – perhaps gold leaf. They are entirely abstract, and achieved through an interplay of squares and circles. The fragmented areas defined by the intersecting geometric lines are variously coloured, or left blank, giving the effect of something like an exploded Bridget Riley picture. The colours are distributed according to rules supposedly based on the knight’s move in chess. How this operates quite escapes me, but I enjoy the paintings in much the same way as I enjoy the arabesques of a mosaic floor. They don’t seem profound, but they are playful and even a little joyful.
Downstairs are two quite different classes of work, both inspired by Oroczo’s current residence in Japan. The big space has a series of wooden poles or staves, hand-patterned in brightly coloured blocks or stripes, and propped against the wall. This is not a new idea – I saw similar propped rods by the American Roni Horn more than ten years ago – but the effect is pleasing enough. The wood was all bought at the Japanese equivalent of a B&Q store and comes in standard lengths measured in a traditional unit, the shaku (roughly a foot). It is slightly interesting to know that, but if you were going to be moved by it, I guess you would have to be a Japanese expatriate.
Two smaller rooms contain more beautiful and more clearly Japanese-inspired work. These are cloth scrolls on which are mounted oddments and offcuts of patterned silk that might be curtain material. The artist has worked on these scraps by cutting geometrical shapes out of them and fitting these back inside out, so that the reverse side of the weave shows. The effect is of a sort of silken inlay making gentle abstract pictures to soothe the eye.
It is all a good deal less abrasive than the headline work in Oronczo’s Tate show. Sometimes when an artist’s output becomes quieter and more meditative, it gains spiritual or emotional depth: in street parlance, it gets soul. It doesn’t quite do that here but nevertheless the harmony of the work, each piece with the other pieces and all of them with the delightful gallery space, makes the whole of this exhibition a considerable pleasure.