In a letter to his gallerist Jose Kuri, the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco questions the texts of the critics Sergio R. Blanco and Estrella de Diego, published in Reforma’s cultural supplement El Angel on November 22, 2009 before his retrospective exhibition in 2009 at MoMA (December 13, 2009–March 1, 2010)
Published in Reforma newspaper, Mexico City, December 6, 2009
I write to you about the pair of recent articles in the supplement El Angel of the newspaper Reforma which talk about the success of my career related to my upcoming exhibition at MoMA, and that to summarize, we could title something like “The Miracle of the Success of the Mexican with the Secret Formula” or simply, “Orozco: The Secret of the Miraculous Success”. In these stories, with interviews (one to your brother Gabriel, or to yourself, or to the gallery owner named Gabriel, or Jose, now I don’t understand...) the two writers, to shorten them in one let’s call her Blanca Estrella (in journalism it is allowed to get the name wrong, isn’t it?) - describe the history of my “stratospheric ascent” repeating with uncensored style words like coincidence, circumstance and luck, and without mentioning even once the words talent, originality or even that I grabbed them by surprise! They also speak of me “hitting the nail” of international taste... As if that existed! Or as if there was a national taste as well... Or as if everything was a matter of taste! They also say that my success is because I became the favourite Latin American artist of the Anglo-Saxon critics, and this of course, in a contemptuous tone. Without realizing that because of my work I became the most visible Latin American artist and a critically acclaimed artist by the critics and contemporary artists of my continent.
The problem is that these two articles deform a little the history of my career until reaching alarming speculations that not only do not unveil what they call the “miracle” of my success or its true circumstances, but they tarnished it with the boiling steam of their bad blood. Because to say that the ‘Empty Shoe Box’ or the ‘Yielding Stone’ could have in their own words “excess of complacency with the more institutionalized discourses, those moving around colonial parameters and in a certain way paternalistic” is on purpose mistaking who the artist is. I do not know if they do it in order not to mention artists in Mexico that adopt works and strategies derived from mine, but which are definitely violent, tacky and melodramatic, that paternalise to the extent of tattooing symbolically and physically(1) its paid-colonized public disguised of “volunteered” sweepers(2). The emotional blackmail as strategy of exploitation of political correctness of the exotic foreign artist “exiled” in Mexico reached in reality tragicomic levels. Artists, that more than paternalistic, are pimps in their public and economic manipulation of the alien body and that transform art in the spectacle of the power of benefitting from cheap labour in the Third World. That is simply not me. I ask myself if young artists really believe that the stars, fate, coincidence, or the approval by power, gave me what I have. How have things changed since that miracle of mine that they talk about, haven’t they?
I wonder then if the recent international recognition of Mexican art, initiated through this miracle, is also pure luck and blessing of the colonial power. Yes, I’m sure it is!...
Does anyone remember how internationally insignificant Mexican art was before it changed? Miraculously? Do you remember Raquel Tibol(3) reading aloud a book about what installation art was? It was so that the public of the exhibition at the Desierto de los Leones(4) could understand what was happening there. An exhibition of site specific installations, relating to the architecture and the place in that way, had not been done in Mexico, and people (including Tibol) began studying it. There we began to change art in Mexico. In 1988, before I left to New York, the change began. That I did everything from New York is a lie. I did it in Mexico and then I stopped giving a damn about it, and from the outside this change consolidated... Seems so easy... With the scandal that broke with my first exhibition at MoMA and which spread images of my work everywhere. Remember the face of the local critics? It was as if the devil had appeared to them. From there they began to demonize me. By the way, do you know how much money did Conaculta(5) give to MoMA of the one thousand five hundred dollars they asked for the exhibition brochure? Zero! They said they preferred to support other projects, of other Mexicans in the immediate future, offering MoMA that if they wanted, Conaculta could suggest some names... ja ja ja...
Anyway, this kind of veiled subtexts with an apparent academic impartiality and a deficient documentation, derive from a cheap historicism, where the talent of the individual to understand his/her moment, and to do the things that he feels like it and with it finding new art for life and for the work, will never be the reason for his success. If anything, it can seem incredible to those Mexicans, that a co-national has innovated and influenced other artists in the world, which, although is not mentioned -in the breakdown of the ingredients for my success-, is a measure and perhaps the main reason for the success of my work in this years. Novelty, not exoticism, is what makes fortune. And the one that makes something before the others becomes an essential reference point. Success came after the creation of something new... which was successful.
I know you always tell me not waste time with this and you'll wonder why I write these things. I think it's time to tell the new local historians that are so morally demanding, that they learn to demand from themselves first. They should read carefully the best critics and historians of the world, in the same way that we learned from the best artists. The truth is that it is a pity that there is still not a “miracle” of Mexican contemporary art criticism. That there hasn’t appeared someone who is admired worldwide, and not only by those only interested in Mexican art, but by all those interested in contemporary art in general. There is no Mexican historian who has an original voice that is heard(6). What a pity. Is it bad luck? Or that the stars were not aligned...? I think they are just comfortable with what they think they know. We will have to give them as a gift a big round mirror.
Many greetings to Monica.
See you in New York very soon.
New York, December 1, 2009
1. Here Orozco is referring to Santiago Sierra, and his tattooing of unemployed people in exchange for money. Sierra’s first tattoo was ‘Linea de 30 cms tatuada sobre una Persona Renumerada’, Calle Regina, 51. México D.F., May 1998. See http://www.santiago-sierra.com
2. Here Orozco is referring to Francis Alys’ work ‘Barrenderos’ Mexico City, 2004. See http://www.francisalys.com
3. Raquel Tibol, born in Argentina in 1923, was the great art critic and historian of Mexican Modern Art, she arrived to Mexico in 1953 to study the work of Diego Rivera.
4. Here Orozco refers to the exhibition ‘A propósito (14 obras en torno a Joseph Beuys)’ curated by Guillermo Santamarina and Gabriel Orozco and organized by Flavia González Rossetti, at the antiguo Convento del Desierto de los Leones in Mexico City on April 1989; the exhibition is considered by many as the first contemporary exhibition of conceptual and installation art in Mexico. The exhibition included site specific works inspired by Joseph Beuys by Ruben Bautista, Monica Castillo, Maria Causa, Roberto Escobar, Silvia Gruner, Gabriel Orozco, Melanie Smith, Raúl Pina, Mario Rangel Faz, Manuel Rocha, and Ulf Rollof.
5. Conaculta: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, Mexican governmental institution in charge of the Arts and Culture.
6. Here Orozco is probably referring to well respected art critic, historian and curator Cuauhtémoc Medina, who also was Associate Curator for Latin American Art at Tate Modern from 2002 to 2008. It is well known that they belong to different camps, with Medina being a big supporter of Alys and Sierra. Their animosity has been made evident in the critical reviews Medina has written about Orozco’s work. See Cuauhtémoc Medina, ‘El caso Orozco’, Reforma, October 25, 2000 about Orozco’s retrospective at Museo Tamayo, México City, and Cuauhtémoc Medina ‘La retrospectiva como autoproducción’, Reforma, January 3, 2007 about Orozco’s retrospective at el Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, México City.
Translation to English and Notes by PLB