“My Hands Are My Heart,” by Gabriel Orozco (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

The Gabriel Orozco show at the MOMA has disappointed more critics than it has pleased. Orozco now is, after all, an international jet setter art star (who, as Deborah Sontag pointed out in her review in the New York Times, can afford to purchase an $8.8 million West Village town house “next door to the model Gisele Bündchen’s”). He had his first show at the MOMA as a 31 year old, a show that caught many off guard. Delightfully off guard.

Sontag writing about that previous show:

Then 31, peripatetic and studio-less, the artist, Gabriel Orozco, who belonged to a new generation rebelling against the expensive manufactured art objects of the 1980s, endeavored to produce as fresh and serendipitous a museum exhibition as possible.

Rejecting the pristine gallery used by MoMA’s Project Series for emerging artists, Mr. Orozco chose instead the museum’s nooks and crannies: a space between escalators for a scroll of phone numbers, a corner of the sculpture garden for a hammock between trees. What many remember best about that small show was a whimsical piece not even in the museum itself: “Home Run,” an arrangement of fresh oranges in the apartment and office windows across 54th Street.

Fast forward 16 years. This new show, writes Sontag, is “as concrete as the first show was ephemeral, as planned as it was improvised and as splashy as it was quiet.” Jerry Saltz in New York Magazine writes, “The show is sometimes stirring and surprising, sometimes only elegant, and occasionally empty, knowing decoration.” In general, the response has been a muted stupor.

I have followed Orozco enough to understand some of the let down. I loved the installation 16 years ago. There were moments in this show, like looking at his paintings and wall imagery, when I just couldn’t connect with the what, where or why. Orozco has said that “I want to disappoint the expectations of the one who waits to be amazed.” Perhaps that is the what, where and why.

But then there were other encounters with this show that lifted me right out of the room, into that mysterious zone of inexpressible joy that connecting with art can produce. A large platform of random objects made by Orozco’s hand was a sculptor’s equivalent of a sketch book—raw strokes, undeveloped ideas, pregnant possibilities. In other words, a glimpse into the mind of Orozco at play. “I don’t like a big enterprise of people working for me,” he said. “I don’t want to be a master. I want to be a kid. To keep making art, you have to put yourself in the position of a beginner. You have to be excited by a stone on the sidewalk or, like a child, the flight of a bird.” (From Solomon’s review.)

There are a few of his objects that have primordial staying power. Small eyes embedded in the rooted bottom of a tree, turned on its side. Photographs of streets that are both random and sublime. A white room with just a few Dannon yogurt tops.

Jerry Saltz captures some of its unforgettable nature:

For a real wallop of that sensation, visitors can step into a small gallery where MoMA has installed Orozco’s Yogurt Caps, the artist’s ultimate small-gesture-with-strange impact work and an homage to the Empty Gallery as Work of Art. Made in 1994, and consisting of four clear blue-rimmed Dannon lids, each nailed to the center of one wall of an otherwise bare room, it’s one of the most vexing artworks of the past two decades. Somehow Yogurt Caps transforms the gallery into something both more and less visible. The space becomes about emptiness and fullness, caring and not caring, the drained and the charged, passivity, portals, pissing people off, location, dislocation, irony, sincerity. It destroys the temple of Richard Serra.

On display through March 1, it is worth the visit.

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