Mexico City — Gabriel Orozco at kurimanzutto through April 27, 2024

April 27th, 2024

IMG_6469Gabriel Orozco at kurimanzutto, Mexico City, 2024

The Vitruvian Man (c. 1487) is a study of the proportions of the human body inscribed within the absolute forms of a circle and a square, using metalpoint, pen and ink, with touches of watercolour on paper. One of Leonardo Da Vinci’s best-known works, the drawing is stored in the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia in Italy, and only rarely exhibited due to its fragility as a work on paper.

Influenced by the theories of Roman architect Vitruvius in his treaty “De Architectura” (1st century BC), Da Vinci drew a male figure with his hands and feet touching the perimeter of a circle, his navel at its precise center. Another position is superimposed with his feet standing on the base of a square while his arms extend outwards, the area directly below the navel as the center of the square, per Da Vinci’s own findings.

The circle and the square have long been considered symbols of the divine and the terrestrial. The arrangement of the figure within these two shapes reflects the Renaissance belief that the human body is a microcosm of the universe. By applying geometry and his knowledge of anatomy, Leonardo Da Vinci suggests a new perception of the world where the natural, the human, the architectural and the cosmological converge. This anthropological approach to the rules guiding the universe is emblematic of the Humanist vocation to understand our place within it.


IMG_6508Gabriel Orozco, kurimanzutto, 2024

At kurimanzutto in San Miguel Chapultepec in Mexico City, the artist Gabriel Orozco offers a reinterpretation of the art history canon in a series of unprecedented paintings. In this new body of work, Orozco superimposed the iconic figure of the Vitruvian Man with the outlines of the Aztec deity Coatlicue. A symbol of the Earth as both creator and destroyer, mother of the gods and mortals, the Goddess embodies a dualism expressed powerfully in her image: her face is formed by two fanged serpents and her skirt of interwoven snakes contrast with her necklace of human hearts, hands, and skulls. Her fingers and toes are the claws of a jaguar, a being that lives in darkness and represents death. While snakes symbolize fertility, the female divinity feeds on corpses, as the earth consumes all that dies. The famous Coatlicue statue created c. 1491 is exhibited in the Museo National de Anthropología in Mexico and considered in the Latin American world as a symbol of the Earth that both consumes and regenerates life.

IMG_6494Gabriel Orozco, kurimanzutto, 2024

In his new series on canvas, Orozco uses the circle and the square to frame these two figures diametrically opposed in both form and essence. The figurative confronts the abstract, the organic and geometric collide and the conceptual and historical references are short circuited. Overlapping a female deity over a male body has its own set of implications, and in the realm of painting it is no easy feat. Here, the westernized view of art history appears to have been recalibrated to incorporate indigenous beauty canon at an equal stance. Searching deeper within the confines of the materiality of paint and drawing, color, and light, Orozco extrapolates the meaning of the human body, using representation as a medium for the first time. However, the “ready-made” aspect of both towering figures alleviates some of the weight associated with these images. Indeed, working with source material that is widely known is a methodology that is pervasive in the artworld. Furthermore, we need to consider Gabriel Orozco as a sculptor primarily, who approached painting with the lens of an architect. Indeed, the figure of the Coatlicue is flattened to make the profiles of the sculpture visible on the picture plane. In these paintings, drawing takes center stage, and some graphite traces are reminiscent of blueprints. Da Vinci’s figure appears in some works to almost disappear in the layers of light tempera washed over the canvas, as if upon realization, it could perhaps be considered secondary after all. The technique of the trompe l’oeil is also used in photorealistic rendition of this unusual formal and conceptual collage.

IMG_6503Gabriel Orozco, kurimanzutto, 2024

If we allow ourselves to extrapolate further, most of us are a conglomerate of genetics and inner and outer references. Through travels and contact with the literary world, our fellow humans, art and artifacts seen in museums, we educate ourselves and confront our beliefs and understanding of our existence in relationship to the other. Humanity as a whole is a weaving of thought, and one gains perspective from our immediate surroundings and foreign encounters that nourish and complexify our own sense of self. In these works, Gabriel Orozco allows philosophical, historical and geographical worlds to converge at once in a circle and a square.


IMG_6502Gabriel Orozco, kurimanzutto, 2024

In other smaller paintings on view, the artist associates the Vitruvian Man with plants and animals as to further break down all hierarchies for the sake of painting. The initial drawing appears as a template to drift upon and establish new formal and visual connections. These works need to be considered in relation to his Diario de Plantas, a series of 724 gouache, tempera, ink, and graphite drawings in Japanese notebooks mixed with vegetal and floral imprints. Some of these drawings were first exhibited in Paris at Galerie Chantal Crousel, in London at White Cube, and in New York at Marian Goodman Gallery. Realized between November 2021 and April 2022, they form a botanical travelogue made in Tokyo and Acalpulco, working with materials and plants from his gardens. The humble scale of these works on thin paper allows for more intimate experimentations: the movement of the Möbius strip, Orozco’s recognizable circular diagrams, ink drawings overlapping watery colorful stains. The variation and repetition in the sequence on view in the exhibition outline an abstract landscape, which recontextualizes his sculptural and painterly explorations.

IMG_6500Gabriel Orozco, Diario de Plantas, 2021-2022

The sculptures presented at kurimanzutto are characterized by their scale: 30 x 30 x 30 cm in either white marble or red Tezontle, a Mexican volcanic stone. One work depicts a stylized skull, embedded with its own set of art historical references. The other sculptures appear organic and circular in their carvings, inviting the viewer to walk around them to grasp their inner shapes. The sense of geometry and movement is created using the simple tool of a compass to outline circular cuts and curves. As with Orozco’s “Diario de Plantas”, the “Dés” sculptures are at the scale of the artist’s hands and can evoke the embrace of the human body. Rotation, symmetry, and a subtle sense of the ornament prevail in these pieces, which allows us to consider the large-scale paintings once more from a formal perspective.


IMG_6355Gabriel Orozco, Diario de Plantas, 2021-2022

Repeated patterns, gold leaf outlines, tempera in varying hues and tones, open the possibility for further visual games to unfold on the canvas plane. Subtle in their use of color, unfinished in some areas, bold when the white paint is reapplied on top of the composition, these paintings require multiple viewings to fully recognize them. Their intricacies and complexities appear to be a new direction for the artist, who camouflaged and intertwined two titanic references to make them his own, at least for the duration of this body of work. Echoing the masters and gods of our world is humbling, it is a game of push and pull, of visibility and invisibility of the artist’s own tangible hand.


IMG_6354Gabriel Orozco, kurimanzutto, 2024

–S. Kitching

Photos by Sophie Kitching for Art Observed.


See More:

Kurimanzutto [Exhibition Page]

Marian Goodman Gallery [Exhibition Page]
White Cube [Exhibition Page]
Galerie Chantal Crousel [Exhibition Page]