Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Jacobs Building
1100 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego
Through June 20
Wooden pallets usually seen on loading docks are stacked as towers that define room-like spaces. Lengths of rebar, invisible within sidewalks and walls, become a viney forest that filters daylight above a twisting path.
This is the scene from Mexican-American artist Ruben Ochoa’s newest installation, which occupies most of the 10,000-square-foot Peter Farrell Gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s downtown facility. The gallery is a former baggage warehouse at the back of the historical Mission Revival Santa Fe Depot (1915) designed by Bakewell & Brown. The artist employed his family to help with the installation over a two-week period.
The space is divided by a white wall, with the pallet structures on one side and the rebar forms on the other. The gallery walls are mounted with graphite-and-rust paintings of grids of lines, some horizontal and vertical, others slanting in perspective.
Upon entering the gallery, the pallet forms come first. Stacks of them form towers as high as 40 or more, and the towers join together as walls, covered on the entry side with drywall. These white walls conceal intimate spaces behind, wrapped by the exposed edges of pallets. The pallets bear the faded names of their original owners: Fritolay, Shell, Toma-Tek, Barton, and others.
In the adjacent space, the snaky lengths of rebar angle overhead like spindly tree branches, tied together by twisted wires, anchored into holes drilled in the concrete floor. Slanting pallets rest atop the rebar “trees” like scattered fragments of Dorothy’s storm-twirled house. The rebar clusters define a serpentine path beneath them, from one end of the long space to the other.
At first one is struck by such monumental and energized forms from common, utilitarian materials, but time reveals a dialectic: blue collar/fine art, loading dock/gallery, laborer/curator, invisible/spectacular, anonymity/visibility. According to his introductory note, Ochoa hopes to elevate the everyday and unseen to the level of Richard Serra, Doris Salcedo, Louise Bourgeois, and Gordon Matta-Clark.
The exhibit reminds architects, planners, and others who shape the built environment that materials can have meaning even when they aren’t seen, that anonymous laborers are the ones truly responsible for the structures around us, and that common, often-invisible materials can be exposed and combined into thoughtful works of art.
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