The Derivative and the Inventive: Left, Gabriel Orozco at the press preview for his MoMA retrospective with his “Four Bicycles,” 1994, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection; Right, Urs Fischer, “Untitled,” (piano), 2009, photograph by Benoit Pailley
All critics have blind spots—works that they just don’t “get” but must, nevertheless, review if they are art writers at major publications. Conversely, all critics, I presume, have moments of heightened perception, when they believe they appreciate what they’re seeing better than almost anyone else in the room.
I recently experienced these polar opposites, respectively, at two important museum shows now in New York—Gabriel Orozco (to Mar. 1) at the Museum of Modern Art; Urs Fischer: Marguerite de Ponty (to Feb. 7) at the New Museum.
To me, the Orozco retrospective was uninvolving and unfocused, teetering on the brink of pretentious inconsequentiality. Curator Ann Temkin‘s comment (scroll down to the video) at the press preview, characterizing the Mexican artist’s works as being as essential to our existence as Picasso‘s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” seemed to me an incredible stretch.
By contrast, I left Fischer’s “introspective,” as curator Massimiliano Gioni calls it, completely under its spell: I walked out the door realizing that it had changed how I saw the outside world—a magic worked upon me by only a handful of artists, including Christo and Bill Viola.
Maybe I’m just cockeyed, because a critic whom I greatly admire, Peter Schjeldahl of the New Yorker, reacted to Orozco and Fischer exactly the other way around.
In his review of the Orozco show, Schjeldahl writes:
The MOMA show confirms that Orozco is,
in fact, the one artist of his ilk and time who stands up to really
rigorous scrutiny—incidentally rejuvenating art history as a going
concern—and justifies the effort by being delightful.
And this from Peter’s mini-review of Urs Fischer ‘s three-floor installation at the New Museum:
Frail japes by the mildly talented Swiss-born sculptor—the
international art world’s chief gadfly wit since Maurizio Cattelan
faded in the role—are jacked up to epic, flauntingly expensive scale….If you spend more than twenty minutes with the three-floor extravaganza, you’re loitering.
I engaged in a lot of rewarding loitering at the New Museum but felt that I had lingered too long at the Orozco show, searching for something to engage me. It was diffuse and disjointed, both in substance and installation—dispersed (as has become the Taniguchi-induced norm at MoMA) among three different spaces on two different floors.
I did admire the seminal four “Yogurt Caps,” 1994, one on each wall in a room—an effective minimalist gesture. But most of the show seemed to me unengagingly pretentious, all the more so when the objects hogged attention due to their scale. The most superficially alluring piece was his “La DS,” 1993, a streamlined Citroën that the artist had slimmed down further by excising its middle:
Even critics who found much to admire in this show found the numbingly glitzy “Samurai Tree Invariants,” 2006, a bit too much:
Here’s a close-up of one wall:
The reviews that I’ve read mercifully neglected to mention that this forgettable decoration is a recent MoMA acquisition. It renewed my longing for a colorful, immersive environment also owned by MoMA—Matisse‘s “Swimming Pool,” which had conservation issues that Temkin’s predecessor as MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, John Elderfield, had told me, back in 2006, were “something I’ve got to deal with this year.” Time flies.
Some critics were wowed by Orozco’s “Mobile Matrix,” 2006, graphite on gray whale skeleton. It’s MoMA’s latest attempt to tame its monster atrium:
Holland Cotter, in his ambivalent NY Times review of the show, calls these unlovely bones “architectural filler.” Cotter writes:
Suspended in midair in the MoMA atrium, it seems to have “Why?” written all over it.
What surprises me is that no accounts that I’ve read have seen fit to contrast this forlorn dangle with one of the most beloved, iconic objects in any New York museum—the model of another whale, grandly suspended in the American Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Ocean Life:
In this confrontation, the big blue whale wins swimmingly.
COMING SOON: My Fischer frisson.