Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) 1991
“This installation is an allegorical portrait of the artist’s partner, Ross Laycock, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991. The 175 pounds of candy can be seen to correspond to Laycock’s ideal body weight. Adult visitors are invited to take a piece of candy; the diminishing pile parallels Laycock’s weight loss prior to his death. The museum can choose to replenish the pile, metaphorically ensuring Laycock perpetual life, or to let the pile disappear over time.”
For those that need a response to “well, I could have done that? Why is that on a wall?” or when you’re questioning “why is this considered art?”
So you look at a work of art and think to yourself, I could have done that. And maybe you really could have, but the issue here is more complex than that – why didn’t you? Why did the artist? And why does it have an audience? We delve into it by looking at work by artists like Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Piet Mondrian, and Cy Twombly, among others. You might find it’s not quite as simple as you think.
[…] the Sheridan Square piece rejects a conventional ‘political’ roll-call of heroic achievements, and presents history in a far more complex way, out of chronological order, melding different types of events from the murder of gay San Francisco politician Harvey Milk to the formation of communitybased organizations in response to HIV/AIDS. History is thus specifically not presented as a seamless progressive narrative, expressing some supposedly unified historical force or will. Rather, events and institutions coexist, as in memory, in no particular order or sequence beyond that of our own active interpretive making. The ‘private’ defiantly invades ‘public’ space. (x)
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Blue Mirror), print on paper, endless copies, 1990
“While making clear references to the industrial, obdurate objects of Minimalism, Gonzalez-Torres’ stack pieces are printed with monochromatic colours, textual snippets, reproduced newspaper clippings, or photographs of natural landscapes, often of the sky.”
“Don’t be afraid of the clocks, they are our time, time has been so generous to us. We imprinted time with the sweet taste of victory. We conquered fate by meeting at a certain time in a certain space. We are a product of the time, therefore we give back credit where it is it due: time. // We are synchronized now and forever. // I love you.” Felix Gonzalez-Torres is one of my favorite artists of all time, and the brilliance of his work lies precisely in its ineffability, the way it elides description at the same time it calls irresistibly for language. If Minimalism was about turning our attention away from the object and towards the world, then Gonzalez-Torres must be one if its truest exponents, as gay and Cuban as he was. With material simplicity and an aesthetic of austere warmth, Gonzalez-Torres always forces you to grapple with what is not there—perhaps a homeland left, or health and loved ones lost. It’s hard not to think about his early death from AIDS when discussing his work, but it’s also important not to let it be the unitary lens through which we view it. Many of his best-known projects were conceived to honor his partner Ross as he was dying. Here, two synchronized clocks hang together high up on a wall; they seem almost to float in the barren, blinding void of white, with only each other and their unified timekeeping to stay grounded. And yet, we know that inevitably the hands of the clocks will fall out of step, the reality they constitute together slipping into meaninglessness. Only in Gonzalez-Torres’ subtly ingenious hands can such humble means achieve such devastating ends.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1987-90
Cuban-born Felix Gonzalez-Torres first came to New York in 1979 as a student, and he continued to live in the US until his untimely death from AIDS in Miami in 1996. He became known for a poetic brand of Conceptual art-making that confronted themes of queerness and mourning in the era of the AIDS crisis. Learn about Gonzalez-Torres and other immigrant artists: mo.ma/crossingborders.
Our digital exhibition “Crossing Borders,” presented as part of our #CitizensBorders initiative, showcases works from MoMA’s collection by artists who immigrated to the U.S., often as refugees in search of safe haven. Explore all the works at mo.ma/crossingborders.