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Black Kites

Gabriel Orozco, Mexican, born 1962

Made in New York, New York, United States, North and Central America


Graphite on skull

8 1/2 × 5 × 6 1/4 inches (21.6 × 12.7 × 15.9 cm)

© Gabriel Orozco

Curatorial Department:
Contemporary Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. James P. Magill, 1997

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During a long convalescence, Gabriel Orozco covered a human skull with a graphite checkerboard that bends and swells over its bony contours. The skull can readily be understood as a memento mori, or reminder of death—a symbol common in the European still-life tradition as well as in the visual traditions of Orozco’s native Mexico. Yet Orozco’s sinewy network of lines brings the skull to life again, suggesting the thoughts that once filled this shell, or the sensate skin that covered it. Working at the interface between two-dimensional drawing and a three-dimensional object, Orozco draws attention to relationships between a surface and an interior world.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art Handbook (2014 Edition)

    Described by the artist as a drawing in three dimensions, Black Kites—a bleached human skull traversed by a graphite-pencil design—provocatively integrates structure and surface, line and volume. Gabriel Orozco’s aesthetic favors modest over monumental and reveals unexpected sensuality in common objects and materials. Although the skull is a motif deeply entrenched in the art and traditions of Orozco’s native Mexico, here it is transformed into a strikingly contemporary object of rich ambiguity. The title is typical of the artist’s allusive names for his works; the mental image of black diamond-shaped kites soaring in the sky transports the heavy, earthbound skull into an airborne poem. Black Kites is a skillful meditation on the complex act of creative thinking, an action that is simultaneously abstract and grounded in the experience of our finite bodies. Adelina Vlas and Ann Temkin, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014, p. 410.