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Gabriel Orozco: The Art of the Ready Made

The first -- and at first, the only -- thing you see on walking into Gabriel Orozco's retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art is an empty shoebox lying on the floor, a few inches from the wall and askew, as though someone had kicked it into the room by accident.

A piece of trash, left over from unpacking? Oh no, wait, there's a wall label: "Empty Shoe Box (1993)." Is he serious?

Orozco, who was born in Mexico in 1962, and has lived in Berlin, Paris, and New York, is hardly the first artist to challenge our idea of what art is. Duchamp had his famous urinal, after all, although a shoe box is, admittedly, more banal.

But, thankfully, Orozco is not all about austere conceptual gimmicks. Some of his works are primal, even sensual. In MoMA’s atrium, a giant reconfigured whale skeleton hangs in mid-air, like an exhibition at a natural history museum, except that it has been tattooed. Using thousands of mechanical pencils, Orozco and his assistants drew large concentric circles on the bones. Long before Damien Hirst and his diamonds, Orozco used a pencil to cover a human skull with a chess-board like grid.

Orozco’s “La DS” is a Citroën DS that he transformed by cutting it lengthwise, removing the center third, and welding it back together again, making the car absurdly skinny, with room for only one seat across, with the steering wheel in the middle. Even if you’ve seen pictures, the actual sight makes you laugh out loud.

The exhibition curator, Ann Temkin, says that Orozco uses everyday materials — he once made an entire sculpture out of laundry lint — in order to suggest that art is all around us, not something separate from everyday experience. For an earlier exhibition at MoMA, he gave oranges to the residents of apartment buildings across the street from the museum and asked them to put the oranges in their windows — creating art on the street outside the museum, where one least expected to find it. 

As Orozco's artwork exemplifies, one man's discarded rubbish can be another man's artistic treasure.

If you are a fan of Mexican art, stop by The Mexican Cultural Institute of New York. Orozco has spoken there about his works in the past. Take a closer look at the exhibit Asesinos, which is up until January 10, 2010.

It may not be made up of un-conventional items like Orozco's pieces, but the gargantuan outdoor installation piece in P.S 1 is worth a gander. Architectural firm MOS submitted the winning design, Afterparty, as part of this year's MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program competition, which called on emerging architects to create a structure that incorporated shade, seating, water and bar areas.

Over at the Guggenheim, fellow installation artist Rebecca Horn has two of her pieces in the permanent collection. Stop by and check them out, and you'll be able to partake in the museum's 50th anniversary festivities.

Installation view of Mobile Matrix, 2006
Installation view of Mobile Matrix, 2006 ( Photograph by Charles Watlington )
Installation view of Mobile Matrix, 2006
Installation view of Mobile Matrix, 2006 ( Photograph by Charles Watlington )
Mobile Matrix, 2006
Mobile Matrix, 2006 ( Gabriel Orozco )
Mobile Matrix, 2006
Mobile Matrix, 2006 ( Gabriel Orozco )
Mobile Matrix, 2006
Mobile Matrix, 2006 ( Gabriel Orozco )
Double Tail, 2002
Double Tail, 2002 ( Collection of the artist )
Working Tables, 2000-2005, 2005
Working Tables, 2000-2005, 2005 ( Purchase and gift of Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro and Donald B. Marron )
Working Tables, 2000-2005, 2005
Working Tables, 2000-2005, 2005 ( Purchase and gift of Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro and Donald B. Marron )
Penske Work Project: Open Door, 1998
Penske Work Project: Open Door, 1998 ( Collection of Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol, New York )
Four Bicycles (There Is Always One Direction), 1994
Four Bicycles (There Is Always One Direction), 1994 ( Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection )
Eyes Under Elephant Foot, 2009
Eyes Under Elephant Foot, 2009 ( Charpenel Collection, Guadalajara, Mexico )
Empty Shoe Box, 1993
Empty Shoe Box, 1993 ( Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York )
Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe (detail), 1995
Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe (detail), 1995 ( Tate presented by George and Angie Loudon )
Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe (detail), 1995
Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe (detail), 1995 ( Tate presented by George and Angie Loudon )
Atomist: Making Strides, 1996
Atomist: Making Strides, 1996 ( Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York )
Black Kites, 1997
Black Kites, 1997 ( Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. James P. Magill )
My Hands Are My Heart, 1991
My Hands Are My Heart, 1991 ( Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York )
Untitled, 1993
Untitled, 1993 ( Agnes Gund Collection, New York; Photography: Tom Powel )
Horses Running Endlessly, 1995
Horses Running Endlessly, 1995 ( The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Agnes Gund and Lewis B. Cullman in honor of Chess in the Schools )
Yielding Stone, 1992
Yielding Stone, 1992 ( Collection of the artist )
Korean Air, 1997
Korean Air, 1997 ( The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Patricia and Morris Orden )
Yogurt Caps (detail), 1994
Yogurt Caps (detail), 1994 ( Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York; Photography: Tom Powel )
Untitled, 1993
Untitled, 1993 ( Agnes Gund Collection, New York )
Elevator, 1994
Elevator, 1994 ( The Dakis Joannou Collection )
La DS, 1993
La DS, 1993 ( Fonds national d’art contemporain (Cnap), Ministère de la Culutre et de la Communication, Paris, Fnac )
La DS, 1993
La DS, 1993 ( Fonds national d’art contemporain (Cnap), Ministère de la Culutre et de la Communication, Paris, Fnac )
Kytes Tree,  2005
Kytes Tree, 2005 ( Purchase and gift of Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro and Donald B. Marron; Photography: The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Department of Imaging Services )
Island Within an Island, 1993
Island Within an Island, 1993 ( Courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery, New York )
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