How Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Unabashedly Political Art Lent Minimalism a New Context

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Indulge in quite a lot of his other works, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s light bulb sculptures will even be supplied in endless various programs. They’ve been proven in spaces one also can seek files from—the steely, frigid white cubes of museums and galleries around the realm—nonetheless they’ve also been proven in sudden places. They were slung over paper-strewn bulletin boards and desks, as they were in the workplaces of Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1995; suspended from ceilings greater than 5 floors excessive, with their bulbs amassing in a pile in the basement, as they were at the Whitney Museum in New York when it reopened in 2015; and hung all the arrangement by varied streets luxuriate in Christmas lights, as they were in Limerick, Ireland, for an out of doors exhibition in 1996. Few works in the history of artwork possess proven to be this nimble.

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Gonzalez-Torres, who died in 1996 at age 38 from AIDS-linked causes, desired to cede his authority when it came to the presentation of his works—something many artists are unwilling to enact. As a result, institutions possess in general had topic realizing how they must be proven. “As soon as I send these things to museums,” he as soon as told curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, “they grab faxing us motivate pronouncing, ‘What can we enact with this component?’ and we grab faxing them motivate pronouncing, ‘Irrespective of you’d like!’ and they correct don’t give it some belief.”

Appropriate now, one of those light string works—1994’s “Untitled” (The US), the an identical one which showed in Ireland in 1996—will even be came upon outdoors the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona in Spain, which is currently host to 1 of essentially the most crucial Gonzalez-Torres surveys held in Europe in fresh years. In it are a preference of works testifying to the artist’s various output: his sculptures peaceful of sweet, his “dateline” works featuring text alluding to a host of events, his printed multiples made available in the market for the taking, and more. Amid it all is an acute sense of loss, even though it’s deliberately ambiguous who—or what—is not any longer fresh. How viewers fabricate sense of it all depends on their files of world history and Gonzalez-Torres’s biography, as successfully as their salvage identity. On the occasion of that display, beneath is a files to Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork.

‘Lightweight Minimalism’

Essential of Gonzalez-Torres’s work is spare, stripped-down, and slick. Regarded at snappy, one also can mistake it for Minimalist artwork of the form that Donald Judd and Carl Andre made in the 1960s and ’70s, with blocky, fastidiously crafted kinds that appear mass-produced. But Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork is a gleaming twist on that trend—name it “light-weight minimalism,” as artwork historian Susan Tallman has written. Or you furthermore mght can count on a a cramped bit various terminology, as critic Bob Nickas as soon as did when describing the 1991 piece “Untitled” (Whisk-Whisk Dancing Platform), a squarish piece of picket that is lined with light bulbs and could well play host to a rush-rush dancer wearing a small silver bathing swimsuit, sneakers, and listening to a Walkman. With a suggestions to the trend it lent a unusual unfamiliar context to a create equivalent to Robert Morris’s sculptures, Nickas labeled Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork “kinky minimalism,” even when the performer wasn’t fresh.

A man is shown from behind wearing nothing except a silver bathing suit and sneakers. He dances atop a blue platform ringed by lights.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Whisk-Whisk Dancing Platform), 1991.
©Felix Gonzalez-Torres/Courtesy Felix Gonzalez-Torres Basis/Photo EPW Studio/Maris Hutchinson

Regarded at on this form, Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork comes to undermine the purity that Minimalists strove for. His sweet works, each every so continuously installed as piles in corners, also can fair resemble Robert Smithson’s sculptures peaceful of grime and glass. Yet, no longer just like the Smithson works, that can possess to be admired perpetually, Gonzalez-Torres’s are non everlasting: viewers are invited to employ the candies, successfully causing the piece to recede gradually till they’re replenished. Add to this the truth that some—even though no longer all—of the sculptures are based on the weights of sure folk from the artist’s life. “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), from 1991, as an illustration, is supposed to be 175 kilos, the frequent weight of an adult male, of multicolored wrapped sweet. Its title refers to Gonzalez-Torres’s boyfriend Ross, who also died of AIDS-linked causes and whom the artist as soon as known as his most most necessary audience.

Or grab in suggestions Gonzalez-Torres’s stack works, peaceful of poster-luxuriate in sheets that can even be taken away by viewers. A range of those sheets resembled honest monochromes. Others had photos of a flying fowl in the sky printed onto them. Easy others are printed with immediate poetic phrases. Art historian Robert Storr has written that these works, along with many others by Gonzalez-Torres, eschew the “anti-glorious” practiced by many artists of the ’80s and unbiased for class. With the stacks, as every other of conserving those seductive visuals throughout the partitions of institutions, “that beauty is disseminated.”

Two perfectly synched clocks are shown against a white wall.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Generous Lovers), 1987–90.
©Felix Gonzalez-Torres/Courtesy Felix Gonzalez-Torres Basis/Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut

Disappearing Acts

Without a doubt one of Gonzalez-Torres’s most famed items is “Untitled” (Generous Lovers), 1987–90, which aspects two clocks against a white painted wall. Firstly, the two clocks are design in unison. Their batteries will expire at various rates, causing them to descend out of sync—nonetheless they will even be reset at the proprietor’s will. The work changed into made no longer long after Ross changed into diagnosed with AIDS, and it changed into a meditation on the persona of time itself for Gonzalez-Torres. “This piece I made with the two clocks changed into the scariest component I genuinely possess ever executed,” he as soon as mentioned.

[See images of Gonzalez-Torres’s most famous works.]

Losses, disappearances, and absences are invoked repeatedly in Gonzalez-Torres’s artwork. “His is an artwork of clean spaces and things left unsaid,” curator Amada Cruz as soon as wrote. Such is in general the case with this “portraits,” which in general enact no longer depict their sitters, at the least explicitly. In his 1992 work “Untitled” (Portrait of Andrea Rosen), an homage to his longtime New York vendor, a series of phrases and dates is painted at the terminate of a wall, shut to where it meets the ceiling: “Silver 1982  Grey Rocks 1966-75  Bathroom replicate 1973,” it reads, in piece. A photograph of its installation in Rosen’s design of job from 1992 shows a clean workspace with no person inhabiting it; the text is correct barely visible amid sunlight hours streaming in.

A hand pulls away a sheet from a stack with a red square on it and a German phrase translating to 'WE DON'T REMEMBER'.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (We Don’t Endure in suggestions), 1991.
©Felix Gonzalez-Torres/Courtesy Felix Gonzalez-Torres Basis

Making Which methodology

To display Gonzalez-Torres’s 1988 work “Untitled” (Madrid 1971), two puzzles must be pieced together to create two photos: a sepia-toned one depicting a younger boy and a dim-and-white one featuring a low-attitude shot of a monument. Above the photos, “MADRID 1971” is written in red lettering. There could well even be many associations between these two photos and the text—a narrative about emigration, perhaps, or a fable a few time out of some form. As curator Carlos Basualdo has identified, nonetheless, encrypted on this work is a reference to Gonzalez-Torres’s three-month preserve in Madrid in 1971, when he changed into 13. Alternatively, as Basualdo has written, “If we knew the identity of that adolescent boy … would now we possess uncovered the mystery?”

The facts are these. Gonzalez-Torres changed into born in Guáimaro, Cuba, in 1957. He changed into sent to Spain as a youngster in 1971, and later that year left to dwell in Puerto Rico till 1979, when he moved to New York. In 1987, he changed into a component of Crew Field topic, a pioneering artwork collective that also included figures luxuriate in Julie Ault and Jenny Holzer at varied facets. In 1995, Gonzalez-Torres had a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Nancy Spector served as its curator, and would later arrange every other most most necessary exhibiting of his work in 2007 at the Venice Biennale’s U.S. Pavilion. Gonzalez-Torres died in 1996 in Miami.

But Gonzalez-Torres inspired viewers to largely push aside all of the above, on condition that how they be taught his work also can even be told by viewers’ salvage experiences. Perhaps in a nod to this constant re-contextualization, the title of each Gonzalez-Torres work is a squishy component. Most are labeled “Untitled”—mark the quotes, which signify that the piece technically isn’t untitled—along with a further phrase in parentheses that lends a unusual valence.

“Which methodology can fully be formulated after we evaluation, after we carry files to our day after day diploma, to our ‘inner most’ sphere,” the artist wrote in a text published in 1996. “Otherwise files correct goes by.”

A black monochrome has printed on it text with dates and names.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled”, 1987.
©Felix Gonzalez-Torres/Courtesy Felix Gonzalez-Torres/Sequence Massimo Orsini

Particular Objects

Throughout the ’80s, a preference of artists began fervent to severe thought for inspiration, drawing on texts by Jean Baudrillard, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and many more of their highly conceptual work. In that appreciate, Gonzalez-Torres changed into no various, even when he belief of the experimental playwright Bertolt Brecht, who preceded these figures by several a long time, to be amongst his necessary influences. He also wasn’t immune to artwork thought, namely the form linked to formalism and Minimalism. “Give it some belief or no longer I am a tall sucker for formal disorders, and yes, any individual luxuriate in me—the ‘other’—can contend with formal disorders,” he told the artist Tim Rollins in 1993. “Here is not any longer a white-men-fully terrain, sorry boys.”

In his work, even though, Gonzalez-Torres changed into agency to display that the precepts proffered by these theorists were rarely smartly-liked of their attain. As a substitute, each object required its salvage explicit context—haughty theories imported from Europe also can fair no longer enact the elephantine job of explaining his artwork’s significance, contrary to smartly-liked common sense at the time.

And attributable to he spoke openly about how they did or didn’t prepare to considerations with the day, including U.S. conservatives’ crackdown on ingenious freedom and homosexual rights, he changed into deemed a “political artist” by varied critics. Constant with Robert Storr, he by no methodology grand cared for the labels utilized to him, including “homosexual artist” and “Latino artist.” (Gonzalez-Torres changed into launch about his sexuality.) When critics pointed to Gonzalez-Torres’s Cuban heritage as proof that the latter could well even be mature to characterize him, Storr wrote, the artist drew attention to a lacking component in his artwork: “No palm bushes!”

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