February 8-March 16, 2017
Gobernador Rafael Rebollar 94, San Miguel Chapultepec I Secc, 11850 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
By KAREN MOE, SEPT. 2017
Believe it or not, making something exactly the same can be different. This odd occurence is what happened with Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco’s controversial act of mimesis, OROXXO. From February 8th to March 16th 2017, yet another OXXO convenience store was erected within the gallery space of Mexico City’s Kurimanzutto. Every detail of this addition to Mexico’s most successful retail chain of its kind was attended to, replete with all of the expected merchandise and display cases, real-life OXXO employees, and, as the gallery announced in their artist statement/ advertisement, the exhibition/store was “open for business for 30 working days.” However, despite the artist’s game of ostensibly creating an exact copy of an OXXO location, this act of replication was an intervention that generated cycles of reflexivity and upheaval. OROXXO was not only a critique of the art market, but also extended into a commentary on consumer culture at large. Through a process of duplication and displacement, Orozco’s convenience store in the art gallery opened up opportunities to see the same thing differently.
In response to visitors’ comments that the Kurimanzutto OXXO was a "replica" of a real store and, thereby, different as "faux," Kurimanzutto gallery staff stated emphatically that, “This IS an OXXO:” literal, absolute, and without difference. There were Kurimanzutto OXXO receipts, visitors could "buy" something with the OROXXO money they were given upon entering, and the store layout, lighting, and merchandise were identical. Except for the fact that the visitor had to cross the threshold of an art gallery before passing through the convenience store door, everything was exactly the same as a typical OXXO.
And this strange feeling of sameness was, indeed, part of the point. Orozco orchestrated a game of economic collusion between high and low in order to demonstrate that, for him, there is no difference between the humble world of consumer goods and the elitist world of high art. The sale of commodities abides by the same rules in an unregulated market economy, regardless of the amount of money spent on a single purchase. Fuelled by the spectacular context of an art gallery, this dialectic of coexistence was put on display. The humble OXXO became a flocked to selfie setting; Coca-Cola transformed into a revered object that will never opened; high art was reduced to a bottle of beer or a pack of smokes. The boundaries were thus blurred between what are, on the surface, regarded as opposites. At OROXXO, exclusive art and quotidian merchandise narrated their interchangeability.
Corporate spin and art world mystique are secular mythologies that bestow value upon the mythologized. In terms of demand, in the art market the artist’s name can be more of a selling feature than the actual art object and in the world of retail, slick branding is what motivates consumers to "pick me." The only material sign of the artist’s presence in the OROXXO series of unabashedly found art was his alluring sticker, a riff on his series of abstracts titled "Samurai Tree." As a highly speculated upon international artist, Orozco was most likely very aware of the role he himself played in his convenience store-cum-art gallery-cum-economic experiment. He was not only critiquing the fickleness of the art market: he was also making fun of his influential positioning in it, and was ultimately proven right: national and international galleries and art collectors raced to Mexico City to purchase bags of chips and cans of soda that had sky-rocketed from 30 pesos (less than two dollars) to $30,000. Indeed, at OROXXO, Orozco demonstrated his power to transform water into wine, and to laugh at the sorcery all the while.
Despite the gallery insisting on its own OXXO being identical to any typical OXXO outside the gallery walls, there was a sense of giddiness upon entering the Kurimanzutto OXXO branch that one never experiences when going to buy a loaf of bread. Moreover, upon exiting the store from the back door and rounding the corner into the authentic gallery space, the viewer experienced the rush of a Quinceañara coming out party: there they all were, the Mexican aristocracy of commodities. Hand-picked by the artist as the privileged representatives of his country’s consumer culture, Coca Cola, VIP, Boing!, Bimbo bread, and Delicados glowed within their aesthetically pleasing assemblages that accentuated curve, line, and color. The glittering metallic stickers were essentially glass slippers that, like in the Cinderella fairy tale, were the activators of the regal essences at long last being surfaced and celebrated.
Orozco did not completely cover the original logos with his own, creating a flirtatious collaboration between his flashy logo and the ones that lay beneath. Clothed in revealing applications, dish soap, breakfast cereal, and gummies showed off their inner sexiness as they were caught in the erotic tension of being covered and uncovered at the same time. The bold circles of gold, red, and blue danced with the jolly fruit on boxes of Boing; the spherical shapes were bedazzling compatriots amidst the pile of potato chips on a bag of Ruffles. By adding the accoutrement of his glamorous sticker, the everyday was no longer merely "of the aisle:" it strutted the runway.
On another level, the artist’s be-stickering of the well-honed brands was also an act of corporate take-over. As the rules of the artist’s branding game galloped upon competitors’ surfaces, his graphics remained fully intact. Others were trampled, from Bimbo to Bim, and from Bacardi to Bacdi. With the artist’s playful leaps of correspondence and erasure, the transformations of the familiar and reliably stable symbols of products exposed their inherent mutability and inevitable manipulation. In OROXXO, be it an act of fraternity or aggression, the names of the familiar were interrupted in order to shift our way of seeing, to wake us up.
In a 2017 Life and Style interview [link in Spanish], Orozco discussed how his realization that OXXO has such a presence in contemporary Mexican culture inspired him to create this project. He commented: “OXXO has become commonplace in our language and jokes. We say things related to OXXO because it has already become very present in our society.” It couldn’t have been a Mac’s, Circle K, or 7-11; it had to be an OXXO, the store that has become a key player in modern day Mexican identity. Moreover, OROXXO could not have happened anywhere else but Mexico; the intervention is an actualization of Mexico as distinct from other cultures. Paradoxically the project nonetheless expresses how that "otherness" is synonymous to contemporary globalized culture, where national and individual consciousness alike are increasingly imprisoned.
In the end, the visitors to OROXXO partook in a sardonic game of liberation and entrapment. Once passing "Go," OROXXO play money in hand, we entered into a merger of conceptual art and corporate spin while being forced to face our brand-ruled culture’s homogenized consciousness at the expense of cultural diversity. We walked through a looking glass and played the parts of ourselves as hyperreal participants in a world where our everyday commodities glowed with the revelatory splendour of new-fangled Guadalupes. In Gabriel Orozco’s game of OROXXO, we were players in the same game we had come from in the first place. WM
Karen Moe is an art critic, visual and performance artist, author and feminist activist. Her work focuses on systemic violence in patriarchy: be it gender, race, the environment or speciesism. Her art criticism has been published internationally in magazines, anthologies and artist catalogues in English and Spanish and she has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. She is the founder of the Vigilance Fierce Feminisms Magazine. Her debut book, Victim: A Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor is being published on April 2nd, 2022. Karen lives in Mexico City and British Columbia, Canada.
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