‘You Have to be Confronted With Reality All the Time’: Watch Artist Gabriel Orozco Explain Why the Street Is His Studio

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Gabriel Orozco in "Art in the Twenty-First Century" Season 2 episode, "Loss & Desire," 2003. © Art21, Inc. 2003.

For most people, a trip to the grocery store is a necessary evil of daily life. But for the artist Gabriel Orozco, it is a source of inspiration—and a valuable opportunity to infuse art into the everyday.

“He had come to the supermarket with me to help carry stuff back,” the artist’s wife, Maria Gutierrez, told Art21 in a 2003 interview. Suddenly, she recalled, he “realized what an ordered, perfect world the supermarket is, and he realized the minute you put [an object] back and it’s not in it’s place, there’s this chaos that generates.”

Gabriel Orozco in “Art in the Twenty-First Century,” Season 2, “Loss & Desire,” 2003. © Art21, Inc. 2003.

That chaos was the genesis of Orozco’s Five Problems (1992), a series of photographs of real interventions he made in a grocery store. He juxtaposed random objects to bring a dose of the surreal into a dull environment: five potatoes balance atop a stack of notebooks in the stationary aisle, while a pyramid of watermelon is turned into pedestals for tins of cat food.

The artist’s interest in dissolving the divide between art and the rest of the world began during his childhood in Mexico, when he would wander the streets with a camera, taking pictures of cracks in the sidewalk or piles of trash. “I don’t have a studio,” he told Art21. “Sometimes the studio’s an isolated place, an artificial place, like a bubble…When you don’t have a studio you have to be confronted with reality all the time.”

At Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, the artist is currently presenting a twist on another ordinary material: stone (which, Orozco has noted, is no more than compressed dust, the most common material of all). He has carved a series of limestone sculptures using the techniques of craftsmen in Bali, where he now lives. The geometry of the three-dimensional objects is echoed in canvases lining the walls, each painted with patterns of circles and squares designed according to predetermined formulas.

Watch the full segment, which originally appeared as part of the “Art in the Twenty-First Century” television series on PBS, below. “Gabriel Orozco is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery through October 27, 2018. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new season of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship Art in the Twenty-First Century television series premieres this September on PBS. Watch full episodes and learn about the organization’s education programs at Art21.org.

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