Damián Ortega

Damián Ortega was born in Mexico in 1967. His artistic work has received great international acclaim since the last Venice Biennale. In the group exhibition curated by Gabriel Orozco and shown at the Arsenale, the artist completely dismantled his VW beetle and hung the individual parts from the ceiling, creating the impression of a 3D technical diagram.Ortega uses different forms of artistic expression, such as sculpture, installation, photography and video. His work examines the political and economic framework conditions for the transformation of raw materials into tradable commodities (and vice versa), as this occurs within industrial production and in everyday use. Until recently, Ortega lived in Rio de Janeiro, where he did a study on the favelas which was as far-reaching as it was subjectively-motivated. These improvised labyrinthine residential areas for the poorest strata of the population are to be found on the periphery of many large cities in Ortega’s home country, and in this form are specific to Latin America.

The exhibition at the Kunsthalle Basel is the first large solo exhibition by Damián Ortega in Europe. It will include two new sculptural works by the artist. The first work, which Ortega produced for Room 4, is the Clay Mountain, a four-metre high heap of clay in the shape of a volcano, a monstrous construct, an aggressive eschatological work: “I am very interested in Robert Smithson’s work Hotel Palenque, in the encounter of beginning and end at one and the same moment, in this kind of dialectical process. I’m sure that Smithson was thinking here in particular of the Maya culture and the pre-Colombian culture of Mexico and Latin America. The gods are made of rock and clay and surrounded by birds and snakes, sun and moon. Distance and proximity at the same time.“ (Damián Ortega)
Ortega will install Iglesia en Rotación in the large Room 5. This expansive sculpture is based on the ground plan of a simple Baroque church shaped like a cross with a circle at its centre formed by walls of stacked bricks. The ground plan simultaneously fans out in four different phases, like a futurist painting. The walls are build of varying layers of bricks, giving rise to staggered heights that enable us to partly overview the large installation and thus perceive the new pattern that emerges from the basic form.
The original idea of the church ground plan in a cross-shape with a stable centre is lost here. Iglesia en Rotación is an ironic play on the Catholic notion of a static world order guaranteed at its core by the tradition of faith. The cold industrial presence of the bricks may well recall the minimalist sculptures of Carl Andre. But Ortega’s concept is dramatically charged: thus the first church seems to rotate out of the longitudinal wall of the exhibition room, on whose outside, as an invisible pendant, is Basel’s Elisabethenkirche, a circumstance which for Ortega is part of his complex installation: “Ultimately, you can walk through the labyrinth as if through a ruin or a brick works. A futurist sculpture. You move forwards and backwards in architectural time.“

The exhibition catalogue is published by Schwabe Verlag, Basel, and contains a visual essay by Damián Ortega, a text by Russell Ferguson, Deputy Director for Exhibitions and Programs und Chief Curator at the University of California, Los Angeles, Hammer Museum, excerpts chosen by the artist from a new book about the favelas by the Brazilian author Paola Berenstein Jacques, and an introduction by Adam Szymczyk, Director of the Kunsthalle Basel.

This exhibition is generously supported by: