Still eliciting extremes of praise and condemnation after a decade on the international art scene, Mexican conceptual artist Gabriel Orozco has now reached a level of fame appropriate for a feature-length docu. “Gabriel Orozco,” by fellow Mexican Juan Carlos Martin, strives to capture the rough, raucous, fun-loving, energetic and surprising qualities that run through Orozco’s vast body of work. An interesting intersection where new art and new cinema cross, pic should find a good spot in vid galleries after a terrific tour of major fests.
Martin tagged along with Orozco from May 1998 to his first solo show in Mexico in 2000, and an introductory sound montage indicates that this will be a film journey recorded by a fan rather than a critical observer.
The first meeting of the director and artist in Paris has Orozco delivering characteristically strong statements (“If art isn’t political, it’s boring,” “Painters are making painting disappear”), interspersed with reflections on how he began as a painter, then gave it up to work in every possible kind of media — from the body of a Citroen roadster to disposed trash and beer cans.
Pic’s scattershot style and structure capture the breathless energy that Orozco gives to his work and life. But this style doesn’t lend itself to documenting several potentially interesting incidents (such as in Paris’ Cafe de Flore, where Orozco, Martin and curator Hans Ulrich Obrost are tossed out for some reason, or a badly recorded meeting with video artist Steve McQueen). A closely observed work like “La Deese,” Orozco’s much-lauded “re-sculpturing” of a Citroen, allows the viewer time to ponder the work, while other pieces are glossed over with almost hysterical speed.
As the tally of Orozco’s pieces and the cities and galleries showing them grows, connective threads begin to emerge. There is the visible tension between an artist with a keen desire for engineering and one who enjoys playing and improvising with found materials.
In docu’s most revealing section, Orozco visits Oaxaca in southern Mexico to collect material on a beach for a show in Frankfurt. Not only does Martin show Orozco methodically going through the process of collection, photographing his objects, and even transporting beach sand to Frankfurt, but also taking breaks at night to eat, drink and rail against conservative forces in the art world. Amusingly, the next day he muses that Martin’s film will preserve him as a young artist full of “naive” opinions.
The odyssey ends in Mexico City, where Orozco has ironically been less known (until recently) than in art capitals from Paris to Los Angeles (where his major career show was staged after filming concluded).
Federico Barbabosa’s lensing is a vibrant display of media itself, including 35mm, 16mm and video in both color and black-and-white, while the densely layered soundtrack (designed by Rogelio Villanueva and Christian Manzutto) is itself a work of art, compiling voice clips, Manuel Rocha’s original music and the trance-dance sounds of Euro band Tosca.