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1 REMEMBER ME: FELIX GONZALEZ TORRES AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEMORY By CHRISTIAN ALBERTO WURST A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGRE E OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2011
2 2011 Christian Alberto Wurst
3 To my parents: Carlos and Lilly Wurst
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I have been extremely fortunate for all the support I have had while writing this thesis. First I would l ike to thank my committee members Dr. Joyce Tsai and Dr. Elizabeth Ross for their guidance and scholarship. I would also like to thank the staff, faculty and my friends in the School of Art and Art History. Also, I thank my family for their love and support even though they knew early on that would not become a surgeon. And last, but not least, I thank John, my editor and the inspiration for this entire endeavor.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 7 Organization ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 9 Biography, Education and Career ................................ ................................ ........... 11 2 QUEERING MINIMALISM, THEATRICALITY AND TEMPORALITY ...................... 16 3 SOUVENIRS AND SWEETS ................................ ................................ .................. 27 4 SKY BLUE, CHILDHOOD AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY ................................ ...... 36 5 TRAVEL: P AST, PRESENT AND FUTURE ................................ ............................ 45 6 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 55 APPENDIX: LIST OF FIGURES ................................ ................................ .................... 58 LIST OF REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ............................... 61 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 66
6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts REMEMBER ME: FELIX GONZALEZ-TORRES AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MEMORY By Christian Alberto Wurst May 2011 Chair: Joyce Tsai Major: Art History This thesis will look at the work of the Cuban-American artist Felix GonzalezTorres and his attempts to reconstruct memories and experiences from his life through me aning through the relational, the artwork resists giving viewers a specific interpretation and instead allows them to understand a work in their own way. The thesis explores the relation of GonzalezRemembrance of Things Past in which of sensual cues. Collective memory and melancholia are at the heart of several of GonzalezRoss Laycock. These works become less about an event itself and more about the emotions surrounding the event. Gonzalez-Torres also uses traveling as a theme to explore the past, present and future. Finally, the thesis takes into account that the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torre, which maintains its social relevancy, goes beyond specific experiences and deals with basic principles of human interaction.
7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION One day I want to make something from what I read in the paper and the next day I want to make a work about a memory I have eating a delicious meal with my boyfriend in Italy. Felix Gonzalez Torres 1 Felix Gonzalez Torres told this to the art critic Robert Nickas in 1991 after debuting Every Week There Is Something Different his second show at the Andrea Rosen Gallery in New York City. In this quote, Gonzalez Torres evokes a specific memory, what many would consider a banal moment with his partner. By including the pleasure of taste and travel, he is able to tease out the essential components of a memory: sigh t, taste and smell. He then writes here about incorporating memory into R ecolle ction and meditation are at the heart of Felix Gonzalez does no t try to give viewer s a definite point of view or experience that relates to him but allows them to succumb to their individual experiences. My thesis will focus on the conne ctions between memory construction and reconstruction, and how sensual experience, travel and meditation, become vehicles for these processes in Gonzalez The fact that many of his works establish gift giving as one of it s central function s memories but also allow for the construction of the visitor s own memories. With the 1 Robert Nickas, To rres: All the Time in the World, Flash Art 24, no 161 (November December 1991), pp. 86 89.
8 parenthetical titles that vaguely recall personal references to Gonzalez Torres, the visual, oral, aural and tactile cues that are at the forefront of these works will also evoke involuntary memories when one engag es with them Several of his pieces include this participatory practice or engage in a silent dialogue with the viewer, where temporality an d experience become much more important than interpretation. Gonzalez Torres takes it a step further by having people interact with the work as a key component. His work addresses de ath, AIDS, homosexuality and capitalist structures that are part of the day to day. All of these issues become ephemeral traces from his experiences as a gay Cuban American living with AIDS in New York City, losing his friends and lover to this and the way society treated these events. 2 Throughout his career, Gonzalez Torres kept an interest in engaging with the audience by inviting them to interact and discuss his work amongst themselves; he did not have an interest in strongly influencing or manipulating memories. 3 They also offer moments for meditation. The transportation of memories is implemented in his candy piles and pap er stacks since gallery visitors are allowed to take a piece home as mementos, memories rendered materially manifest. In that sense, his works spread across the globe. I will discuss how memory, temporality and meditation are prevalent themes in these wor ks. This paper will be organized thematically as I unpack his eight year career 1987 to 1995 and point out themes in 2 Village Voice (June 17, 1989), p. 93. 3 Nancy Spector, Flix Gonzlez Torres a nd Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Felix Gonzalez Torres (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1995), pp. 39 87.
9 key works and exhibitions: memory in candy piles, traveling in the paper handouts and temporality found in exhibitions show how they were p revalent themes throughout his career. Organization The rest of this chapter will focus on Gonzalez young teenager, transitioning from communist Cuba to capitalist countries like Spain, Puerto Rico and finally the United States. I will draw attention to events that resonate most in his work: his education; his relationship with his partner, Ross Laycock; the paper will turn its attent exhibitions from 1964 and 1967 at the Leo Castelli gallery in New York, which first stressed the importa nce of temporality with their exhibition spaces constantly changing, and Gonzalez Every Week There Is Something Different I will show that Gonzalez Torres piece Untitled (Go Go Dancing Platform) from 1991 fr om that same show also relates to temporality, memory and ecstasy. In Chapter Three, I will discuss theories of involuntary memory through the work of Marcel Proust and how sensory stimuli allows individuals to recall unannounced abstract memories. Marcel Remembrance of Things Past ( la recherch du temps perdu ) refer to these involuntary associations of memory and the retracing of events through sensual stimuli. 4 This chapter will look at works like Untitled ( Welcome), a stack of welcome mats that contain small trinkets in 4 gratification through the senses.
10 between each mat that the visitor is allowed to look through as well as the multi colored candy pile, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). Gonzalez Torres incorporates his own memories into t actile, edible and interactive pieces. Chapter Four, in keeping with the theme of memory, I will analyze his frequent has been read by critics as connecting to queer se xual practices. I will focus on a group which exemplify this theme. Not only does blue connect queer sexual practices with childhood but also certain blue pieces can repr esent the collective memories of the gay community during the AIDS crises. Finally, in Chapter Five, I will focus on traveling as a major theme for some of Gonzalez physical realm but also something we convey in the transportation of ideas. Spiritual transcendence is also a kind of travel. As his career progressed, Gonzalez Torres worked through this theme from the past to the present and, finally, his future. Toward the end of hi s life, his works became less concerned with social issues. Instead, through images of open skies and flying birds, his later works call for moments of contemplation and meditation. This is seen in his last traveling exhibition, Felix Gonzalez Torres: Tra veling which exhibited bird and sky images on large billboards throughout Los Angeles. It is evident that toward the end of his career, knowing that death was imminent, his work evolved from contemplation of the past to acceptance and meditation of his f uture. He invited others to understand this experience in their own lives.
11 Biography, Education and Career Felix Gonzalez T orres was born in Cuba in 1957. In 1971, during his early teens, he and his sister Gloria were sent to Spain, as living in Cuba bec ame increasingly difficult for his family. The two stayed only a few years in Madrid and eventually moved to Puerto Rico where they lived until Felix was in his early twenties. After graduating from Colegio San Jorge and attending the Universidad de Pue rto Rico, Gonzalez Torres moved to New York to pursue a fine arts education and begin his career as a conceptual artist. Due to traveling restrictions that prohibited Cuban Americans from traveling to Cuba it would not be until 1979 when the ban was lift ed that he return ed to Cuba to visit his parents 5 In 1983, while living in New York City, he received his B achelors of F ine A rts from the Pratt Institute. His style would develop throughout the course of his education being influenced by both Minimalis m and Postminimalism, and well into his career as he continued to educate himself in theory that would become the questions he would arise in his work. Gonzalez month Independent Study Program twice, once in 1981 and aga provides a setting within which s tudents pursuing art practice, curatorial work, art historical scholarship, and critical writing engage in ongoing discussions and debates that examine the historical, social, and intellectual con 6 During this program he engaged deeply with readings in social and cultural theory including works by Louis Althusser, 5 The Miami Herald February 25, 2011, http://www.miamiherald.com/2009/04/10/994427/cuba travel restrictions.html 6 This quote is how the Whitney currently d escribes their current program. Whitney Museum of American Art, accessed January 19, 2011, http://whitney.org/Research/ISP
12 Roland Barthes, post colonial theorist Frantz Fanon and many others. In 1996, Gonzalez Torres said in an interview: make certain pieces, These ideas moved me to a place of pleasure through knowledge and some understanding of the way reality is constructe d, of the way the self is formed in culture, of the way language sets traps, and of the cracks in the master narrative those cracks where power can be exercised 7 After the Whitney Program, he received his MFA from the International Center of Photograph y and New York University. His education allowed him to explore photography, means of reproduction and alternatives to the capitalist systems of the art market which he would later incorporate in his art practices. The t wo other major influences in his life were the c ulture w ars in the late and early and his eight year relationship with Ross Laycock. During Gonzalez career, the art world in the United States came under intense scrutiny. W hat has b een marked as the culture wars referre d to the criticism that the a rt world received by the conservative right in the 1980s Many conservatives during the Re a gan era were trying to block government funding for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) because they believed the NEA was funding what they called 8 Much of the art deemed inappropriate referenced the AIDS epidemic, (homo)sexuality, racism and non mainstream religious beliefs. The NEA faced strict surveillance after it gave grants to Robert Mapplethorpe and Andr es Serrano. Politicians like North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms sought to close the NEA 7 Tim Rollins, elix Gonzalez Torres: Interview, Felix Gonzalez Torres, ed. Jul ie Ault, ( Gttingen: Steidldangin Publishers, 2006) pp. 68 69 8 Philip Yenawine, Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America ed. by Phillip Yenawine (New York: NYU Press, 1999) p. 9.
13 altogether Though unsuccessful, he managed to cut $45,000 from the budget in 1989 9 During many interviews and talks, Gonzalez Torres pushed Americans to occupy the ir time with issues other than government losses in the savings and loan industry when $10,000 was given to Mapplethorpe? su 10 Another event that proved significant to his work at this time was the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick which deemed private homosexual acts, such as oral and anal sex practiced by two consenting adults, not pr otected under the Constitution. 11 A work like Untitled from 1991 (figure 1), which was exhibited by the space of the bedroom. The black and white image of an unmade bed with the imprint of two people on the pillows was reproduced twenty four times in publically displayed billboards all along Manhattan and the adjacent four boroughs. Written with the description of the piece for Projects 34 h as well as and overview of Bowers v. Hardwick 12 The court decision became a public intrusion into his private space so he in turn he intruded the public sphere with his private image. 9 The specific works and exhibitions in question were Robert Map The Perfect Moment at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. that included some photographs that depicted homosexual S&M act. The show was partially funded by the NEA for installation costs. A $15,000 fellowship from the South eastern Center for Contemporary Art was given to Andre Serrano and funded the making of Piss Christ a photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in urine. 10 Robert Nickas, Torres: tre Art Press no. 198 (January 1995), p. 27 11 Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America ed. by Phillip Yenawine, pp. 309 315. 12 Exhibition information from i n Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Jul ie Ault, p. 190.
14 Both the culture wars and are events that affect ed his personal life as well as his artistic practice Gonzalez Torres met Ross Laycock in 1983 at Boybar, a typical New York City gay establishment. T hey lived in separate cities for many years during the course of the relationship ; Gonzalez Torres in N ew York City and Laycock in Toronto. Traveling across borders became a necessity in the development of their relationship. Eventually in 1990, they moved to Los Angeles where Gonzalez Torres becomes a professor at the California Institute of the Arts H e taught two courses, AIDS and Its Representation and Social Landscapes Laycock was living with AIDS by the time they moved to Los Angeles; h e eventually died in January 1991 Gonzalez Torres describes his partner as l, incredible body, [an] entity of perfection [that] 13 At request, Gonzalez Torres sent out a hundred yellow envelopes with his ashes. The body becomes a theme he works with time and time again, espec ially the abstracted and divided body that goes from a large mass to nothing. The years after death, Gonzalez Torres moved back to New York and continued to dedicate his work to him After he watched Laycock die, Gonzalez Torres also had to watch as many friends slowly disappear Shows like Every Week There Is Something Different and Longing and Belonging: From the Faraway Nearby revolved around the ephemerality of life and how quickly things can change. 14 The artist died of AIDS i n January 1996, which was a few months after his mid career retrospective at the Guggenheim, his traveling exhibition and five He was 13 x Gonzalez Torres, p. 47. 14 Exhibition History in Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Jul ie Ault, pp. 381 392
15 thirty eight. 15 From 1991 until his death, he had twenty international solo shows and seventy seven international group shows. 16 That number of exhibitions has since doubled as his art still remains culturally relevant and has the potential for shifting meanings. In the next chapter, I will first explore Gonzalez see ho w they reflect his interest in temporality and theatricality. Critics have often stron gly influence Gonzalez 15 Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Jul ie Ault, pp. 361 376. 16 n Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. by Julie Ault, pp. 381 392.
16 CHAPTER 2 QUEERING MINIMALISM, THEATRICALITY AND TEMPORALITY Minimalist sculptures were never really primary structures; they were structures that were embedded with a multiplicity of meanings. Every time a viewer comes into a room these objects become something else. Felix Gonzalez Torres 17 Gonzalez Torres gives this view of Minimalism to the artist Tim Rollins in 1993. imalism in the late 1960s. 18 In 1966, the name was part of the title for the Jewish Museum of New Primary Structures: Young American and British Sculptors Minimalists ors including Anthony Caro and Phillip King. 19 The name and the show suggest that these works are the result of stripping down objects to their essential form. Judd rejects the use of this word in his exhibition statement because it alludes to self contain ed reductive structures 20 A new way of looking at art develops writings; art that defies illusionism and functions through relationships with space, light beholder stands in relation as subject to, and keeps a d istance from, the passive object. 17 Tim Rollins, elix Gonzalez Torres: Interview, p. 74. 18 Kynaston McShine, Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors (Jewish Museum: New York, 1966) 19 James Meyer, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties (New Haven: Yale Unive rsity Press, 2004), p. 13. 20 n Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959 1975 ed. by Donald Judd (Nova Scotia : Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1975), p. 190.
17 This distance is similar to theater and negates the instantaneousness of Modern art. 21 What Fried finds to be negative becomes positive in the eyes of post modernists: especially conceptual artists and performance artists who explore the notions of theatricality and temporal relationships with their art. The relationship that Gonzalez Torres has with Minimalism is not one focused on just the reduction of objects to primary structures but one that emphasizes the way these objects have a relationship with the viewer. The subject/object relationship that Minimalism establishes is with a body in space and time. The physical body then becomes the subject in the emergence of feminist/queer theory in art. Gonzalez Torres says in the same interview with Rollins, just 22 In this chapter, I will look at the development of the subject/object relationship that began with Minimalism through the writings and art practices of Judd and Morris. These ideas are questioned and reexamined by critics and artists alike. Relationality becomes a critical focal point for the next gen eration of artists. As the queer scholar, Jos Esteban Muoz points out in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity desire also becomes an important part in the evolution theatricality and temporality for the understanding of queer utopianis m. This is seen in the work of Gonzalez Torres. In Untitled (Go formal aesthetic and the temporality of performance to address queer notions of desire, 21 Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 155, 167 22 74.
18 ecstasy and utopianism. The dance theatricality with Muoz In his exhibition statement for Primary Structures Judd does not believe that his 23 The artist w or somehow 24 For Judd, meaning in his work was not just found in its formal qualities but extended itself outside the physical limits of each piece. In his pieces as being neither sculpture nor painting but three discusses the limits to painting being its dependence on illusionism bearing little if no relation to its actual shape. He proposes that because of this new three dimensional art that the definition of art needs to be expanded. dimensions can be any shape, regular or irregular, and can have any relation to the wall, floor, ceiling, roo work needs only be interesting. 25 includes himself, Frank Stella, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris and others. Artforum later published a set of articles by Morris that explains his take on present day sculpture. 23 p. 190. 24 Ibid. 25 Donald Judd, Donald Judd: Complete Writings 1959 1975 ed by Donald Judd, p.184 Originally published in Arts Yearbook 8 ( 1965 )
19 published by Artforum from February 1966 through June 1967. One key difference between him and Judd is that Morris between the aim of Minimalism and that of late Modernism; Minimalism attempts to resolve the issue of achieving total autonomy and establishing a relationship with literal space. Minimalism is able to do this by creating works that are large enough that the viewer establishes a public relationship with it and avoids intimacy. Ways to avoid intimacy, which pulls the viewer in and out of the space, is through simplified forms like Die whi ch are deplete of rich surfaces and intense color. 26 When these elements are in order, Morris describes the emergence of a relationship between the makes them a function o 27 The art critic Published in 1967 for Artforum Minimalism and its impact on art. Fried points out differences between high Modernism focus on their physical presence or objecthood as oppose to painting and sculpture that try to defeat or suspend it. 28 He takes the idea of objecthood a step further by 26 In Continuous Projects Altered Daily: The Writing of Robert Morris ed. by Robert Morris (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), pp. 14 16. Origina lly published in Artforum 5, no. 2 (October 1966), pp. 20 23. 27 Ibid, p. 15. 28 pp. 152 153.
20 theatrical effect or quality 29 Stage presence stated here implies the way literalist work demands the attention of the viewer. The work does not ju 30 This is essentially wh y written at the moment when contemporary art breaks away from the notion of autonomy, as a new generation of artists begins to embrace the work and writings of the Ju dd and Morris. Two years a post minimal practices do away with easel painting and autonomous sculpture almost entirely to focus on the situational and temporal aspects of art making. Morris brings up this shift di scusses the evolution of art since Minimalism. Published in 1969, the artist addresses contingency and indeterminacy which becomes the basis of process art. 31 Works are no lon ger rigid structures but always in flux. This temporal unfolding becomes another component in the subject/object relationship. Artists in this post minimal practice include Robert Smithson, Rafael Ferrer and Morris himself. 29 Ibid, p. 155. 30 Ibid, pp.163 164. 31 Robert Morris, : Beyond Objects, in Continuous Projects Altered Daily: The Writing of Robert Morris ed. by Robert Morris, 67. Originally published in Artforum (April 1969).
21 Morris not only writes about this post minimal shift in art but also one of its originators. An early example of his incorporation of theatricality is found in 1961 (figure parted, there was not hing but an eight foot high column standing straight up. The column eventually falls on its side, and a few minutes later the curtain closes. The use of the same kind of grey column exhibited in other gallery shows implies a theatrical component to his la 32 Leo Castelli galleries in 1967 and 1969. The two shows share a basic premise ; the artist changes the layout throughout the weeks of the exhibitions. During the first show (figure 3), Morris rearranges eight sectional fiberglass sculptures to make different closed and open shap es. The gallery visitors encounter the same pieces, but the experience would differ depending on the day they visited 33 The viewer constructs meaning during a specific time and place; the artist imposes no rigid autonomous structure. 34 The second show (f igure 4), in 1969, features Untitled (Scatter Piece), which consists of 200 different pieces constructed from various materials (zinc, copper, brass, steel, aluminum, lead and felt). Morris places the sections across the gallery floor; the artist continual ly updates them for duration of the show. 35 Coin flips and numbers picked from a New York City phonebook determined the 32 Rosalind Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture (Boston: MIT Press, 1981), pp. 201 203. 33 Robert Morris (April 20 May 11, 1968) at 4 E 77 th St. 34 Rosalind Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture p. 267. 35 Robert Morris : Continuous Project Altered Daily (March 1 22, 1969) at Castelli Warehouse
22 placement of each piece. These calculations also determined the length and thickness of each cut. 36 The process turned into another perf ormance as visitors saw the artist arrange each piece during the three week show. The experience and interaction with the work and the space become important. The focus on relationality continued in post minimalism but as Hal Foster notes in 1996, during the 70s and 80s there arose another critique of Minimalism, not in opposition to autonomous art, but a reexamination of the subject/object relationship. subjective o rientation of phenomenology, it tended to position artist and viewer alike not 37 From this began the development of Body, Performance and Installation art centered on sexual difference and question s of authority. 38 Artist and critics in the decades to come would take gender relations. These interpretations emerged in the late twentieth century out of Feminist reading s of art and the advent of LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) studies. From this perspective, Jos Esteban Muoz writes an account of the performance, conceptual and visual art world in New York City during the last four decades of the twentieth century. 36 Information from Press Release for a February May 2010 exhibit at Leo Castelli fou nd in the Leo Castell i website, accessed January 19, 2011. http://www.castelligallery.com/press_releases/RM_ScatterPiece_Feb10_email.html 37 Crux of Minimalism The Re turn of the Real: Art and Theory at the End of the Century (Cambridge: MIT Press: 1996), p. 59. 38 Hal Foster, Art Since 1900 : Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004 ), pp. 570 574.
23 In Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity Muoz argues that a queer interpretation can be exercised in looking at many post minimal works. structured hierarchies, e.g., heternormativity, socioeconomic structures and linear 39 This queer utopianism is found in the envir onments found in public toilets, dancehalls and punk rock stages. In their ability to breakdown non hierarchical relationality, all of these moments open up the possibility of a queer futurity. 40 Muoz points to the work of Gonzalez le of queer utopianism. Gonzalez Torres takes the language of Minimalism and the post modern/queer theory of the past four decades to make work that establishes a gendered relationship with the viewer, addressing personal experience in order to open up wh at Muoz 41 To begin we will look at one of Gonzalez Fascinated by the issues that Minimalism confronted, the artist incorporates them it into his work. Every Week There Is Something Different show at Andrea Rosen in 1991 42 The show does exactly what it promised: every week the artist takes down certain works and changes the layout. Some pieces he adds while others 39 Jos Esteban Muoz Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University, 2009), p. 25. 40 Ibid. 41 ibid, p. 37. 42 Every Week There is Something Different. An drea Rosen Gallery, New York. May 2 June 1 1991 Andrea Rosen website, accessed January 19, 2011. http://www.andrearosengallery.com/artists/felix gonzalez torres
24 are removed. This causes the works to take on different meanings when placed against other objects. In week three of the show, Gonzalez Torres included Untitled (Go Go Dancing Platform) (figure 5) This piece consists of a sky blue box placed in the center of the gallery. The top of the box is lined with lights. Unbeknownst to visitors, for a few minutes each day, a man with a perfectly toned body clad only in sneakers, a Walkman and a silver lame swimsuit dances on top of the lit platform. When the song is over, the man steps off and leaves the gallery. It is clear that Gonzalez Torres references several historical an d personal events in this piece like the Minimalist look of the stage and to th acknowledges the subject/object relationship. The relationship is one of desire, in many ways sexual desire, not previously addressed in Minimalism between viewer and s part of Muoz unite as the relationship with the work takes oneself out of reality through the anticipator y realm of desire or ecstasy while still retaining a sense of theatricality and performance. Desire is presented in two moments of the work. One, the queer potentialities are found in the empty stage; the longing for the performance which does not occur i n the present but always in anticipation, always on the horizon. 43 It then also resides in the time through his performance In his movements, the dancer gives us brief mom ents of 43 Jos Esteban Muoz Cruising Utopia p. 99.
25 ecstasy; a state of self consciousness and obliviousness when one removes oneself from what Muoz calls straight time 44 One reason why Gonzalez Torres would take on this process could be read in of Every Week There is Something Different In his article Untitled (Go Go Dancing Platform) in the show. According to Watney, it was juxtaposed with another work, Untitled (Natural History) from 1990. This piece consisted of photographs of the words used to describe Theodore Roosevelt in front of the Museum of Natural History in New York. The p hotographs which and among others were hung in previous weeks. But during the third week, only those three photographs remained in the room with the platform. Now, instead of the photographs referencing Roosevelt, they gestured toward the dancer. With the juxtaposition of both pieces, Watney describes the da the dreadful pressures of homophobic educatio 45 For Watney, who wrote abo ut the AIDS epidemic during Gonzalez at a hopeless time. Its brief inclusion in the show as well as the unannounced appearance of the dancer once a day presents the work in a state of constantly vanishin g, making the stage an ephemeral trace of the performance This is only one instance how the artist manages to suspend time. In the following chapter, I will show 44 Ibid, p. 81. 45 Simone Watney, e Work of Felix Gonzal ez Torres, Parkett no. 39 (March 1994), pp. 38 44.
26 another way how one can step out of time during memory reconstruction triggered by haptic r esponses.
27 CHAPTER 3 SOUVENIRS AND SWEETS No sooner had the warm liquid, and crumbs [of the madeleine] with it, wh ich being linked to that taste, has tried to follow it into my conscious mind. Marcel Proust 46 Gonzalez and collectors. Cross referencing the public events of our epoch with times past, he has invented a graphic stanza form composed of raw but carefully selected data. Robert Storr 47 The first quote comes from the novel Remembrance of Things Past by famed 20 th centur y French author Marcel Proust. His writing captures the brief and fleeting moments of involuntary recollection caused by a somatic encounter, from the taste of the petite madeleine to the sensation of stumbling over a cobblestone. known to stop the progress of the story line and suspend time with prolonged and eloquently written descriptions of people, places and various memories. 48 The second quote comes from the art critic Robert Storr. Storr is describing Gonzalez illustrated events labeled with a year, here painted frieze like along the walls of the 46 Marcel Proust, Frederick Augustus Blossom, Joseph Wood Kr utch, and C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Remembrance of Things Past ( New York: Random House, 1934 ), pp. 34 35. 47 Art In America (January 1996), p. 74. 48 Jos Ortega Y Gasset and Irving Singer, e, Distance, and Form in Proust, The Hudson Review 11, no. 4 (Winter, 1958 1959), p. 507.
28 museum. They portray pub lic events in history along with the personal events of the sitter. Gonzalez In the end, the personal events chosen would resonate with the individual. Storr describes these vignett by Proustian is their ability to invoke memories to those who come in contact with the portrait is personal but that does not mean th at the date would not summon another memory to someone else. I believe that Gonzalez this theme in other work. Felix Gonzalez Torres not only uses visual cues to evoke memories from the ar tist but other senses as well. He branches out of the visual arts, which has certain limits to sensual experience, and includes touch and taste in order for the visitors to project their own memories onto the pieces. While much of his work functions as s napshots from his 49 In these pieces for both a keepsake and an object to extract memories. Se souvenir word subvenire : sub (under) and venire (to come). Souvenirs are just that: objects that are relics, from past trips or experiences. They cannot only store past experiences but can 49 Gonzalez Torres was talking about Untitled (Passport #1) from 1 991, but the idea of the interaction between the audience and the piece is valid for most of his work. Quote from Obrist, Hans Ulrich, Gon zalez Torres, Hans Ulrich Obrist Interviews Volume 1 ed. by Thom as Boutoux (Milan: Charta, 308), p. 2003.
29 allow people to extract memories from them. 50 I will focus on three works from 1991 through 1992, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), Untitled (Welcome) and the puzzle piece Untitled which incorporate haptic interactions that not only allow the audience to explore the vestiges of Gonzalez me souvenirs for the audience to explore and place their own personal memories. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (figure 6) weighs 175 pounds and is one of Gonzalez ibited at the Luhring Augustine Hetzler Gallery in 1991, the piece consists of individually cellophane wrapped hard candy, Fruit Flashers that came in assorted flavors ( Grape, Lem on, Lime, Pineapple, and Cherry) and assorted colors (Blue, Green, Pink, Red, Yellow and White). 51 The parenthetical subtitle re ferences the time that Gonzalez Torres spent living with Laycock in Los 52 The use of multi colored wrapped candies is consistent with other 53 Gonzalez Torres often represents the body in abstracted ways; either in candy piles, with the abstracted memories associated with them. The memory from this piece in particular comes from the last year Ross was alive and his weight was slowly dissipating. The a rtist left instructions stating that the intention of the piece was to give 50 th ed. ( Springfiel d, Mass: Merriam Webster, 1998), p. 1194. 51 Nancy Spector Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 147. 52 Robert Torres, p. 29. 53 Merriam p. 504.
30 the candies from the pile away to visitors of the gallery. 54 The piece works like a relic; it stands in for a person no longer alive that becomes divided and spread among several p eople and carries the power of memory and experience with it. 55 Going back to petite madeleine the taste was able to evoke specific memories from his past that included minute details. prose and Gonzalez focuses on sense ations, the ability for taste to recall experiences. There must be a reason why Gonzalez Torres chose these specific multi colored, fruit favored hard candies to represent someone he cared for deeply and why countless reproductions have to follow certain specifications. I believe that Fruit Flashers are connected with a memory of Laycock, one during the last years of his life. It is not just that idea of the candy but the appearance, feel and taste of them are connected too. This process can be recreated inside the gallery with Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). The shimmering effect of the multi colored cellophane is meant to entice to visitor. By first using visual cues, followed by oth er senses, recollection begins to take shape. The fact that it just looks like candy can immediately evoke abstract or generalized associations. This vague memory would be further intensified by the act of reaching into the pile and touching the crinkly cellophane that combine both tactile and aural cues until finally the taste of the sugary substance within the wrapper and eventual dissolve into the palate allows all aesthetic cues to stimulate the recollection of a deeply personal memory to 54 Each piec e taken freely by the visitor did not equate ownership nor the loss of the complete work of art The piece came with a certificate of ownership. Gonzalez Torres specified in his contracts that the owner of the piece, or the institution that housed it, need ed to replenish the piles thus restoring it back it its ideal weight. Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Julie Ault p. 297. 55 n The Dictionary of Art Volume 8 ed. Jane Turner (London: Macmillan, 1996), p. 259.
31 the gallery visitor. This feeling can leave someone as quickly and easily as it arrived, nothing, it has stopped, has perhaps gone down again into its darkness, from which who can say 56 This work recalls both the innocent pleasure of childhood and the body of his lover, the sweets reconstructing the now absent body. Gonzalez Torres talks about the oral pleasure that comes from putting a piece of candy in you 57 Visitors are not only receiving enjoyment by reflecting their childhood but als o pleasure from the candy in their mouths. This body is the lover of the artist, dissolved and reconstituted into a Torres tol d Art Press 58 Since a trace is only a vestige or memory of something completely gone: the portrait of Ross is never really there. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) is a memory, a memory triggered by the sight, touch and taste of a candy pile. He contin ues with this series of portraits, including some of his father. Gonzalez Gonzalez bility to open up new experiences when engaging in his work and its power becomes fleeting, like an orgasm, it might also be no coincidence that the French name for orgasm is le petite mort 56 Marcel Proust Remembrance of Things Past p. 35. 57 Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez Torres pp. 149 150 58 Robert Storr, Gonzalez Torres: tre un espion, p. 32.
32 Untitled (Throat) (figu on the floor with a small pile of cough drops on top. This portrait incorporates Gonzalez and how they 59 One can clearly see that in this portrait, a particular brand of cough drop and a personal handkerchief are meant to stand in for a person at a specific moment in time even if the title does not suggest such a reading. I believe that bot h portraits represent memories and associations suspended in a certain time and place. This next work allows the visitor to literally explore snapshots and vestiges of the z Every Week There is Something Different mats. 60 Each stack gets larger the closer they are to the wall. At first glance, it seems mades. Gonzale z Torres discusses his appreciation of Minimalism and the reason he decided to use But how could I at this point in history? It had to have a certain irony, a certain edge 61 to take like the paper stacks from his inaugural show at Andrea Rosen Gallery. Initially, one does not know what to do besides inspect very closely to see whether they are actual welcome mats. He bought them at the local hardware store near his apartment. 59 Quote by Jon Ippolito in ticks and Sontes and Lemon Drop, ARTnews (September 2002), p. 118. 60 Julie Ault, Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 38. 61 Ibid, p. 39.
33 If a person dares to touch them and lift up to see what is in between, they would be pleasantly surprised. Between each mat are small trinkets and objects the ar tist placed during the installation (figure 8). The objects vary from snapshots, pressed leaves, typed letters, soap, metal, matchboxes, etc. They are souvenirs of trips, people and moments in time. The work is a model of his life. The visitor is able to explore physically the several layers of welcome mats as they uncover more and more said the artist. 62 The description of the piece does not explain what these trinkets mean. The artist does no try to give visitors an explanation but encourages them to ask Torres is welcoming his audience to his memories. To dig around and wonder what these pieces meant to him and what they mean to them. For Gonzalez Torres, these objects carry significant meanings; for the audience they can mean something completely different. The contact with t he rubber mats engages the audience with the artist as he recounts his past through these objects. This dialogue is not given away freely; the explorer must feel, smell and look through each rubbery layer to conceive a history of the artist much like a di rect and detailed physical engagement with someone. Many of the photographs included in this piece are reproduced countless times; one in particular, Untitled (Florence) (figure 9), was also used in his photographic puzzle series from the late 1980s (figu re 10). Photography in general is about the capture and suspension of moments in time with the use of light. Aside from a few quickly staged compositions, his collection of 62 Ibid.
34 personal photographs and publically exhibited images are mostly made up of candid moments in his life. These snapshots are hard to interpret: shadows, footsteps, obstructed faces, animals, buildings, clouds and water are just a few examples of what he photographed. Many were not given a proper title or description until it they were r eproduced as something besides a photo print. Untitled (Florence) depicts a human figure behind an incandescent curtain as the light from outside projects a shadow; not much else is visible besides a partial chair and lamp. The photograph, first dated in 1985, comes from Gonzalez 63 The photograph is not a picture of Ross but of the light from outside that helps project his shadow onto the curtain. Like a sensation that at first only reminds you something v ague, this photograph becomes an impression of an impression of a moment only partially captured, not entirely shown. This is also seen in his many photographs that focus primarily on footprints, either in snow or sand, that are only traces of distinct bo dies photographed before they dissolve. His candy piles, rubber mats and puzzles are three dimensional snapshots of the are just remnants of events and experiences, these pieces function only as the catalyst for remembrance. The inability to communicate these experiences fully to others is also characterized in their media, which allows the visitors themselves to recount their own experiences. The next chapter will discuss Gonzalez 63 ology provided by Julie Ault in Felix Gonzalez Torres (2006), includes entries provided by the artist in Felix Gonzalez Torres st trip to Europe, first summer
36 CHAPTER 4 SKY BLUE, CHILDHOOD AND COLLECTIVE MEMORY Taking a loo k at Felix Gonzalez one finds that his use of color is very limited. Mostly using black, white, red, gold and blue, he sticks with primary colors to strip the work down to its bare essentials. This chapt er will focus on his use of sky blue, which appears in his work more than any other color. During Gonzalez interpr Artforum 64 Steven Evans describes Untitled 65 colors used in this show, perhaps indicative of a male sexual identity and masculine 66 All these critics equate the color with his (homo)sexuality but it is important to ask if these compariso ns are valid ones and if there are other ways into reading his use of blue. Childhood and sexuality often become tied together in all these critiques without an explanation of how they are connected. 64 Anthony Innacci, Torres : Massimo de Carlo, Artforum 30, no. 4 (December 1991), p. 112. 65 Steven Evans, Torres: Massimo de Carlo, Milan, Flash Art 24, no. 161 (November Decembe r 1991), p. 160. 66 Peggy Cyphers, ew, Arts Magazine 64, no. 8 (April 1990), p. 112.
37 It is important to take into account the time and plac e in which these reviews were written. What were the trends, the controversies of the day? Who were the artists producing work at this time, and how do they contribute to a collective memory in which Gonzalez Torres is also a part? I will look at three d ifferent pieces all with the show how they connect with childhood, queer sexuality and collective memory. The connection between childhood and homosexuality is not somethi ng new. like state. 67 With the AIDS epidemic and the culture wars of the 1980s, more and mo re artists focused on homosexuality and its representation in society. Robert Mapplethorpe unapologetically photographed queer subcultures and nude children to the dismay of the mainstream and conservative American public. David used his ar t to reveal the silent anguish of growing up gay and then watching as AIDS took the lives of so many of his friends. Both artists had drawn attention to the sexuality of children; with Wojnarowicz, it meant recalling his own past in the future tense with U ntitled AIDS along with several publications. A few examples of include From Media to Metaphor: Art About AIDS and Drawing the Line Against AIDS was a n exhibition during the 45 th Venice Biennial at t he Peggy Guggenheim Collection to benefit American Foundation for AIDS Research. The New Art Examiner about AIDS focused exhibitions and the new AIDS fundraising culture 67 Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 23.
38 At this time, the AIDS epidemic had reached a fever pitch; everyone, especially gay men, had become paranoid of coming in contact with bodily fluids. Groups like ACT UP/New York, formed in 1987 by people who sought government funding for AIDS research and also distributed information on prevention. 68 It was not until 1996 that new protease blocking drugs would help combat AIDS among people who were HIV positive; unfortunately, Gonzalez Torres wo uld die six months before the drug was announced. 69 In the eighties, Gonzalez Torres joined Group Material, a group of politically motivated artists that organized guerilla exhibitions and demonstrations to reclaim public space during the Re a gan Thatcher er a ; Group Material also worked on other social projects like AIDS awareness 70 Gonzalez art during ACT ephemeral net that epitomize d New York in th e 71 This notion of collective memory can be seen in these groups. A series of three works done in the late 1980s and early 1990s that incorporate the color blue, not only illustrate the collective memory of gay men during this tim e but also references childhood and sexuality. During week four of Every Week There Is Something Different if someone were to walk towards the end of the exhibition at Andrea Rosen, they would end up in a small room with two windows. In this room, where one would see Untitled (Welcome) on the floor, they would also see windows covered with diaphanous powder blue curtains; this is one of the first renderings of Untitled (Loverboy) (figure 11). As stated in Chapter 68 ACT UP website, accessed January 19, 2011. http://www.actupny.org/ 69 Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Julie Ault, p. 376. 70 Hal Foster, Art Since 1900 pp. 605 611. 71 Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feeling: Trauma, Sexuali ty, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Durham : Duke University Press, 2003), p. 159.
39 Three, Gonzalez Torres is known to take o bjects to represent specific memories; this curtain in particular could stand in for the same moment seen in Untitled (Florence), which depicts Ross behind a curtain. Of course very few people would make the connection unless they were both exhibited at t he same time. The curtain is allowed to flow freely with the window open, the sounds of the busy streets and gusts of wind enter and fill the room with movement, sounds and smells of the city. It is as if the curtain itself, activated by outside element s, becomes an ethereal presence in the gallery space, its movements standing in for something not tangible. s easy to make a is something that many adult gay and lesbians mention when look ing back on childhood Stockton considers this the backward birth of the gay child. With the curtains stand as this, now deceased, queer presence a queer childhood revisit ed. 72 This is not the only queer way to see this work; considering the astounding number of AIDS related deaths in New York City at the time, the piece could be a dis 73 The 72 Kathryn Bond Stockton, The Queer Child This is one of six different representations of the queer child. She uses literature and films to reinforce her ideas of children queered in the 20 th century, not just sexually.
40 powder blue not only becomes a sign of queer childhood but the sterility of hospital visits. It is clear that this piece is an object that is infused with a collective feeling of melancholy. This melancholia in which he states that gay men during this time could not properly mourn due t o the number of funerals they attended and the though t of their own impending that during the AIDS crisis there is an all but inevitable connection between the memories and hopes associated with our lost frie nds and the dai 74 There is a tension here that makes mourning impossible, the time used to reflect on lost loved staying a live and preparing for the inevitable is wrapped up in Gonzalez processes when creating work at this time. As I briefly mentioned in Chapter Three with Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), Gonzalez ning, childhood and sexuality. In Untitled (Lover Boys) (figure 12), these themes are addressed in a broader way to represent the collective memory of queer subcultures. Like Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), Untitled (Lover Boys) from the same year a lso consists of candy spilled on the floor. The difference is that instead of the multi colored hard candy pile whose ideal weight was one hundred and seventy five pounds, the white and blue ribbon candy pile has an ideal weight of three hundred and fifty five pounds the combined weight of Gonzalez Torres and Laycock While the piece also alludes to the breakdown of their bodies due to AIDS affectionate and sensual piece; it 73 Chicago Reader (May 23, 1990), p. 30. 74 Douglas Crimp, y, October 51 (Winter 1989), p. 8.
41 deals with homosexual pairing and the fusion of bodies. According to interview s Gonzalez Torres never stated that he had AID S or was HIV positive. It was no t until his death that i t became publicly known. Not only is it the combination of two lovers now sharing a deadly disease that is causing bot h of them to disappear but also the union of several strange bodies through the act of consuming a symbol of childhood indulgence. Eating these pieces of candy causes both oral gratification and symbolic sexual unity. This sexual unity was acted by homos exuals in the past through venues for public sex, e.g., bathhouses, dark theaters and public restrooms. and public sex come into play that suggest, what Michael Warner na mes, a queer counterpublic space that is now lost 75 Before the time of AIDS, these sexual practices took place in underground establishments and the dark corners of Central Park. Crimp vie houses, and 76 The time of bacchanalian pleasure had seized and was replaced with disease, prophylactics and paranoia about bodily fluids. Like the communion wafers at a Catholic church, these candies develop intimacie s that bear no necessary relation to domestic space, to kinship, to [traditional] couple form, to property, or to nation 77 With his candy piles, Gonzalez Torres mirrors the effects of an unrestrained queer sexual community that results in the disappearan ce of its participants. The last Untitled (Loverboy) from 1991, whose medium and portability also 75 Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), p. 199. 76 g and Militancy, p. 11. 77 Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics p. 199.
42 gives visitors the opportunity to use the sheets of paper as meditative tools for mourning. A powder blue stack of paper sits quietly on the floor. As peopl e walk through the gallery, the stack becomes smaller and smaller. By the end of the day, there could be nothing left. Many will see Untitled (Loverboy) (figure 13) as a gift from the artist to the viewer, but underneath this generosity is melancholia, a s Gonzalez Torres pointed out in 1995: This work originated from my fear of losing everything. This work is about controlling my own fear. My work cannot be destroyed. I have already o ther things in my life have disappeared and have left me. 78 This work becomes cathartic for the artist; he put memories of a failed relationship into that deals with the co llective loss gay community at that time, Untitled (Loverboy) stands for the loss of his partner. Not only does it represent Laycock but functions as a way to a ver 79 Universally, Untitled (Loverboy) represents all lost partners who died in their blue hospital gowns, frail and delicate like a single sheet of paper. 80 What happens to these meanings onc e the sheets of paper leave the gallery space and the artist has no control? 78 Nancy Spect or, Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 122. 79 Ibid. 80 Other pieces also allude to medicine and hospitals like his beaded curtains, Untitled (Chemo) and Untitled (Blood) series of framed graphs. Having his partner and both his parents going in and out of hospitals died of throat cancer and his mother of leukemia in 1986.
43 Gonzalez 81 Monica Amor explain according to his own desires and situation articulates new meanings which develop on the way between the museum or the gallery and his apartment, office, bedroom, 82 Con sidering that Untitled (Loverboy) is a blank sheet and has little to no obvious context, memory can also stand in for meaning. When a person takes a sheet from Untitled (Loverboy), what they are getting is a blank powder blue sheet that they can do whatev er they want with it. Draw it, fold it, frame it or throw it away, the artist does not tell you what to do. The blank sheet is there for the person to project his or her own memories onto it. Like a memory, the sheet of paper does not last; it is fragil e, and its vividness fades over time. In this chapter, I discussed three works that relate to the union of individual and collective memory, as well as mourning and childhood. The ghosts of the past are still among the living, and with Gonzalez Torres, they reside in his art. The AIDS epidemic claimed many lives, and mourning was not an option when you feared for your own as the sights and sounds of the city enter the gallery space, the consumption of candy invites people to join a pleasure seeking queer public that results in its own disappearance. The sheets of paper become the memorials that people take with them. 81 Robert Nickas, To rres: All the Time in the World, Felix Gonzalez Torres e d Julie Ault, p. 45. 82 Monica Amor, Torres: Towards a Postmodern Sublimity, Art Nexus (January March 1995), p. 57.
44 In the next chapter, I will look at Gonzalez Torr the physical realms to include transportation of ideas, memories and the spirit. This theme shown in works, installations and exhibitions, would be one of the last ones that Gonzalez Torres explores before his untim ely death.
45 CHAPTER 5 TRAVEL: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE need that lifting up, you need that traveling in your mind that love brings, transgressing the limits of your body and your imagin ation. Total transgression. Felix Gonzalez Torres 83 This was Felix Gonzalez love was important in finding inspiration for his work. His answer raises many questions about Gonzalez ractices and views on inspiration. What does traveling have to do with either? It is true that, beginning as a child, the artist spent years traveling around the world; later he traveled widely for international shows. But the kind of travel that he tal ks about in the quote above has more to do more with a psychological excavation of emotions and out of body experiences that comes with profound connections. The interview was conducted the year before Gonzalez Torres died in 1996. At the time, he was we ll aware that AIDS would soon take his life, and this realization shows up in his later works. The self proclaimed atheist started to incorporate a kind of ambiguous spirituality to his work. 84 Traveling moves away from the literal to the spiritual as he began incorporating pictures of flying birds and blank passports. This final chapter will tie Gonzalez his early career and show how the artist tackles the notion of travel in installations and 83 Ross Bleckne alez Torres, p. 47. 84 Ibid.
46 85 Dying for him is the last trip one takes out of their physical body. In order to start looking at his work through the lens of travel and why he would choose such a project, one must first look at his childhood. How does travel and national identity become so important when recounting his life? After focusing on his past, the artist starts to focus on the present with works that capture experiences and thoughts that are then physically transported to an intimate audience. Finally, his focus shifts to the future and spirituality with bird imagery. As I mentioned in Chapter One, Gonzalez Torres spent a great deal of his childhood, adolescence and early adulthood moving from country to country. Because of travel restrictions to and from Cuba, he was unable to visit his family and lived with his sister for most of that time. He had involuntarily become an expatriate at the age of nine and one of the only physical objects that linked him to his country was his Cuban passport. One of his works from 1988, Untitled (Madrid 1971) (figure 14), is composed of two picture puzzle pie wall. One photograph consists of a picture of a neatly dressed boy, 13 or 14 years old, in front of a plain sheet giving a deadpan expression right at the camera. The photograph looks like a passport photo we might imagine to be the young Gonzalez Torres. The other image is of statue, possibly some form of explorer, placed outside on a high pedestal; the photograph was taken from a very low perspective, which gives the statue a backdrop of a simple grey sky. Both images, tied with the parenthetical subtitle, suggest that the photographs used for the puzzle pieces were taken in 1971 or at the very least are associated with that year. 1971 was the year Gonzalez Torres, 85 Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 81.
47 then 13, and his sister departed from Cuba to Madrid. 86 This piece allegorizes his attempt to puzzle out his past through the visual act of reconstruction to explore the intersection of travel and national identity. The frightened boy staring at the camera, caught in the passpor t photo, is thus couched as the brave explorer charting new terrain. A few years later, Gonzalez Torres began to transport bits of his experiences and thoughts to a public. These memories relate more to his immediate past and present rather than his di stant past. In 1991, Gonzalez Torres and Andrea Rosen started to sell empty wooden boxes (figure 15). These boxes were standard desk organizers that letter or package t o the owners of these boxes that they would subsequently have to open and place in the box. According to Gonzalez Torres, these pieces were meant 87 The items that the artist would send at fir st glance look like a random assortment of trinkets and letters having no connection to each other, no grand narrative. 88 He sends odd knick knacks 86 n Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Julie Ault. pp. 361 376. 87 Tim Rollins, elix Gonzalez p. 74. 88 There was a similar project done in the 1960s spearheaded by the artist Ray Johnson. The idea of NYCS was to set up a network of friends, strangers, magazine clippings and other objects to friends with the request that they send something back (Johnson mentions once getting the ear of a small mouse). More people were introduced into this network and NYCS soon spread across the country and even inte rnationally until its end in 1973. Johnson was interested in alternative forms of conversation with multiple people and he explained why this kind of interpretati debuted NYCS was in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of Am erican Art, Ray Johnson: New York Correspondence School The idea that Gonzalez decade long project is apt considering his predilection towards conceptual artists of that decade. The act of mailing objects th at relate to the thoughts and memories expressed in Gonzalez
48 The Golden Girls magazi ne cutouts and a copy of The Paris Review from 1991 that featured Untitled (Perfect Lovers) on the cover. 89 He also includes more personal objects like photographs, letters and postcards. Many of objects were copies of images used in photographic puzzles a nd billboard. If we look back to Untitled (Welcome), which was mentioned in Chapter Three, Gonzalez objects like these to invite the viewer to explore his abstract thoughts and memories. As mentioned in the Introduction, on was to mail his ashes in a hundred yellow envelopes; a nod to their love of travel and exploration. The transportation of the trinkets in Untitled allow for an intimate conversation with the owner of the box. These owners were supposedly receiving things from the artist as late as 1995. 90 While communication is occurring in Gonzalez box pieces, his later works began to explore the idea of travel as a spiritual journey toward the acceptance of death. Gonzalez Torres created a series of works from 1991 to 1993 titled Untitled (Passport) and Untitled (Passport #II). The first realization from 1991 (figure 16) consisted of a stack of 23 5/8 in. by 23 5/8 in. blank white paper. The stack stay s low to the ground, its ideal height being only four inches, and like many of his pieces, they are free for the visitor. The concept of this stack comes from the idea that allow for the travel and crystallization of these ephemeral gestures. E dward M. Plunkett of the Max Ernst Fan Club coined the term NYCS; Johnson also called it the New York Correspon dance School for its performative aspect. Found in Art Journal 36, no. 3 (Spring, 1977), 233 241. 89 The issue I mention is No. 120, from Fall 1991 The Paris Re view, a ccessed January 19, 2011. http://www.theparisreview.org/back issues 90 Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 123.
49 everyone is on the journey of life. Similar to an official passport; its pages st art off empty until stamps document the places and times you travel. The artist describes the individual blank sheets as ribe it with the best, the most painful, the most banal, the most sublime, and yet to inscribe it with life, love memories, fears, voids, and unexpected reasons of being. 91 Gonzalez Torres is equating the beginning of a new phase in life with a blank sheet of paper, which stands in as an optimistic outlook to the future. The artist developed this life without Laycock. Here, the idea of travel and memory is hopeful; he gives the audience the gift of possibility. Aside from the general associations that come with the consideration. The use of any other color on the surface of the paper w ould compromise the contemplative exercise that Gonzalez Torres is encouraging. Muoz 92 Essentially, the blank paper works as a screen onto which spectators can project their own lives, specifically their own voyages. at the future, it reflects on imminent death, or at the very least solitude. In 1993, Gonzalez Torres began incorporating images of birds in midflight over cloudy skies. Untitled (Passport #II) (figure 17) consisted of multiple stacks of bound booklets. These 91 Gonzalez Torres, Felix, Letter to Andrea Rosen, February 14, 1992. I chosen by Julie Ault in Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 160. 92 Jos Esteban Muoz Cruising Utopia p. 143.
50 12 page booklets were 6x4 inches each and featured the bird photographs on ever y page. Instead of having the piece open up a possible place for recollection or projection, the severe mood of the images becomes a vehicle for meditation free of the past or present. Spector writes that there is no room for memories in these booklets, j ust an invitation to dream. In the 1994 catalogue, she mentions a quote found with the 93 grow th. The idea of meditation is also implied in the images themselves: birds in midflight suspended in time also appear suspended in space. Spatiotemporal elements are done away with. When the image includes multiple birds, they do not engage with one anoth er, as maintaining flight is a priority. All the images are taken on a cloudy day, which not only adds a terrific chiaroscuro to the black and white photographs but also gives the viewer a sense of the impending storm off to the side. An impending declin e in health was also on the horizon for the artist in 1993, less than three years before his death, so the birds in flight could represent the difficulty he would soon face in the coming years. Once visitors take the booklet, they become less about the ar tist and temporary suspension of time and place, which is soon replaced with thoughts of the future. This follows the tradition of the memento mori, which not only prese nts the artist coming to grips with his own death but also invites the viewer to do so as well. This was not the only time that Gonzalez Torres used bird images or ideas of travel. Traveling 93 Nancy Spector Felix Gonzalez Torres p. 56.
51 exhibitions and installations were replete with these themes, wh ich took his interest in travel and death even further. The same year that Gonzalez Torres created Untitled (Passport #II) ; the artist had two shows in Paris, Travel # 1 and Travel # 2 This show was featured simultaneously in two galleries in different p arts of the city. In order for people to experience the show fully, they had to travel through the city to reach the other gallery. The artist wanted the audience to encounter the sights and sounds of Parisian streets, which became part of the experience 94 This idea of experiencing Paris was important to Gonzalez Torres; my phys 95 Here the artist is talking about how immobile traveling can be just as important as its physical counterpart. In the Travel exhibition, the audience was getting both notions, of his partner in dreams. For Gonzalez Torres, dreams and memories function the same way in the mind. Gonzalez Torres combined both physical travel and psychological travel into an eight month exhibition that journeyed across the United States. In 1994, Gonzalez Torres had one of the last traveling shows in his lifetime, Felix Gonzalez Torres: Traveling Organized in Los Angeles at the Museum of Contemporary Art, it went on to the Hirshhorn 94 Galerie Ghislaie Hussenot Travel #1 (Oct. 30 Dec. 1) and Galerie Jenni fer Flay, Travel #2 (Oct. 30 Dec. 4). Felix Gonzalez Torres ed. Julie Ault, pp. 381 392. 95 ibid. 81.
52 Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and then to the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. 96 Each venue varied slightly. In Los Angeles, the a rtist installed twenty two billboards across the city depicting images of birds in flight. Washington had two of those billboards installed inside the gallery along two walls, and Chicago had the stack of booklets, Untitled (Passport #II), mentioned above 97 Aside from these works, which directly reference traveling, the rest of the show was a references travel, whether mental, spiritual or physical. One example, the 1992 ph otograph Untitled depicts the grave plaque obstructed with colorful flowers. The image makes reference a relationship between two women, lovers, and partners that is forever recorded in the history of modern art. Another one, Untitled (North) (figure 19), from 1993, consists of twelve strings of light hanging from the throu ghout the majority of his relationship with Gonzalez need to make frequent trips from New York to Toronto, which he considered to be his true home. 98 A critic once described the heat that emanates from the light as comforting, 96 Organized by The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. ( Apr. 24 June 19, 1994 ) Co organized by Amanda Cruz, Ann Goldstein and Suzanne Ghez. Also traveled to The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (June 16 Sept. 11, 1994 ) and The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, IL. (Oct. 2 Nov. 6, 1994) Andrea Rosen Website, accessed January 19, 2011 http://www.andrearosengallery.com/artists/felix gonzalez torres/ 97 Claudia Mesch, elix Gonzalez Torres: Traveling, Chicago Reader October 21, 1994, sec 1. 98 blue kitchen, blue flowers in Toronto a real home for the first time in so long, so long, Ross is Felix Gonzalez Torres e d. Julie Ault, p. 265.
53 99 When a bulb goes out, the idea is that it remains out. Like most things in life, the installation changes organically and you are left with something different: the lights give out and the room dims. Even though this show was not the last retrospective before his death, it allowed the artist to take a look back and put his career into perspective and, in a way, make peace with it. Finally, Gonzalez the Andrea Rosen Gallery did away with many of his old exhibition practices and presented a very traditional show. Keeping with the theme of travel, he debuted Untitled (Vultures) (figure 20), fourteen framed standard sized black and white photographs of birds in flight. 100 Each photograph contains a grayish sky with small specks of black thought to be vultures as the title suggests. The press release has no description besides the names and dates for the show; in it, he does include written works by poets Arthur Rimbaud and Pier Pablo Pasolini as well as singer Barbra Streisand. All three, in one way or another, talk about the existence of God and the practices of organized religion. 101 The show lasted about five weeks and ended in October, three months bef ore his death. It became the institutions would look at his death. Like the vultures depicted, religious and conservative groups could swoop down and use his life as another casualty of the homosexual lifestyle. With no trace of religious iconography, the show had a spirituality 99 Jo Ann Lewis Post, "'Traveling' Light Installation Artist Felix Gonzalez Torr es Shines at the Hirshhorn, The Washington Post, July 10, 1994. 100 "Untitled" (Vultures). Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York (Sept. 8 Oct. 14, 1995). Andrea Rosen Website, accessed January 19, 2011 http://www.andrearosengallery.com/artists/felix gonzalez torres/ 101 Felix Gonzalez Torr es, e d. Julie Ault, p. 30.
54 that transcended religion. A show containing fourteen austere photographs on white walls, modestly lit, was Gonzalez a close.
55 CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION Around the time this thesis was written, late 2010 and early 2011, a retrospective of Felix Gonzalez Torres was traveling across Europe. Specific Objects without Specific Form started off at the WEILS in Brussels followed by the Beyeler Foundation in Basel Switzerland, and finally the Museum fr Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. This retrospective was unique in terms of the curatorial process. The curator, Elena Filipovic, initially decide d the placement of his work in each lo cation. Halfway through the exhibition in each location, an artist who had been influenced by Gonzalez Torres would rearrange the exhibition for the remainder of the show The artists were Danh Vo at WEILS, Carol Bove at Beyeler and Tino Sehgal at the MMK 102 The concept was inspired by Gonzalez since he also encouraged multiple interpretations of his work. Almost fifteen years after his death, much has been written about Gonzalez is raises the question of why his work remains culturally relevant. This paper has shown how certain themes that Gonzalez Torres explored in his day have endured. Gonzalez Minimalists, hi s work was always personal. Taking the parenthetical subtitles into consideration, every work references an event, person or place that the artist experienced. But he never gave away the whole story. Whether it is a childhood memory of his departure from Cuba and his family, the place where he met his partner or a journey somewhere, he demonstrates how memory is both constructed and 102 Danh Vo, Torres: Specific Objects Without Specif ic Forms, Artforum (February 2010), p. 161.
56 reconstructed through aesthetic cues. Not only relying on visual signs for his pieces, he also incorporates oral, aural, ta ctile and to a lesser extent olfactory signals as well. This trend is shown in almost all of his works the candy piles, rubber mats, paper stacks, dancing platforms and others. Another fascinating, yet equally frustrating, aspect of his work is its indir ect nature. The artist stresses time and time again that each person will experience and interpret his work differently and that these interpretations are all equally important to the work. This egalitarian approach has led to a lively, ever expanding li terature on Gonzalez Torres that includes many perspectives. In 2003, the art critic Germn Rubiano Caballer Torres, words do not have a single, uni tary meaning. 103 An example would be the parenthetical subtitles that Gonzalez tist 104 The artist believes that as an immigrant of the United States, he fee ls no need to impose a meaning on anyone that they must come to one themselves. What I wanted to do with this paper is to view Gonzalez evolving project that taps into what it means to feel, to experience, to remember and to exist. At the end of his interview with Gonzalez Torres in 1994, Bleckner asked the 103 Germn Rubiano Caballer ArtNexus (April June 2003), p. 83. 104 Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez Torres 17.
57 artist how long he thought he would live. Gonzalez 105 This view on life permeated his work, an oeuvre of crystallized memories and experiences translated into physical objects. They are souvenirs that mimic the ethereality o f memory. 105 Ross Bleckne Torres,
58 APPENDIX A LIST OF FIGURE S 1 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled 1991, printed billboards, dimensions vary with installation. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York: Gug genheim Museum, 1995, pages 26 27) 2 Robert Morris, Columns, 1961 73, painted aluminum, each column 96 x 24 x 24 in. (in Passages in Modern Sculpture edited by Rosalind Krauss. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981, page 202) 3 Robert Morris, Untitled (Sectional Fi berglass Pieces), 1967, fiberglass, 47 x 48 x 47 in. for four pieces; 47 x 85 x 47 in for four pieces. (in Passages in Modern Sculpture edited by Rosalind Krauss. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981, pages 268 269) 4 Robert Morris, Untitled (Scatter Piece), 19 68 69, felt, steel, lead, zinc, copper, aluminum, brass, dimensions variable (in artnet website accessed in February 27, 2011. http://www.artnet.com/a rtwork/426041149/140983/robert morris untitled scatter piece.html ) 5 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Go Go Dancing Platform), 1991, wood, lightbulbs, acrylic paint, and Go Go dancer in silver lame bathing suit, sneakers and Walkman (when installed publi cally); 21 x 72 x 72. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 104) 6 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, variously colored cellophane wrapped candies, endless supply, ideal weight 175 lbs; dimensions vary with installation. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 151) 7 Fel ix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Throat), 1991, cough drops individually wrapped in blue and white cellophane, endless supply, and handkerchief; dimensions vary with installation (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Julie Ault. Gttingen: Steidldangin Publishe rs, 2006 page 84) 8 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Welcome), 1991, rubber mats, photographs, metal soap, ad paper; 11 x 29 x 71 in. Installation view of Every Week There Is Something Different (week four) at Andrea Rosen Gallery, 1991 (in Felix Gonz alez Torres edited by Julie Ault. Gttingen: Steidldangin Publishers, 2006 page 39)
59 9 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Florence), 1985 1992, framed C print; 24 x 31 1.4 in. Image size: 12 x 19 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Julie Ault. Gtti ngen: Steidldangin Publishers, 2006 page 111) 10 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled 1989, C print jigsaw puzzle in bag; edition of 3, 1 A.P.; 7 x 9 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres, and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 116) 11 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Loverboy), 1989, blue sheer and metal rod, dimensions vary with installation. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 78) 12 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991, cellophane wrapped blue and white candies, endless supply, ideal weight 355 lbs; dimensions very with installation. (in Felix Gonzalez To rres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 154 155) 13 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Loverboy), 1991, blue paper, endless copies; 7 in (ideal height) x 29 x 23 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 19) 14 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Madrid 1971), 1988,C print jigsaw puzzle in plastic bag, edition of 3, 1 A.P.; 7 x 9 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 48) 15 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled 1991, wooden box, paper, photographs, magazine s, postcards, and other objects added by the artist over time; box 2 x 10 x 12 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 126 127) 16 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Passport), 1991, white paper, endless copies, 4 in. (ideal height) x 23 5/8 x 23 5/8 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 199 5, page 54) 17 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Passport #II), 1993, offset print on paper, bound in booklets, endless copies; 8 in. (ideal height) x 30 x 24 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Gugge nheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 55)
60 18 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled Paris), 1992, framed C print, edition of 4, 1 A.P.; 26 x 36 in. (in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Specto r Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 72) 19 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (North), 1993, 15 watt light bulbs, extension cords, and porcelain light sockets; dimensions vary with installation ( in Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Nancy Spector Flix Gonzlez Torres and Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York; Guggenheim Museum, 1995, page 79) 20 Felix Gonzalez Torres, Untitled (Vultures), 1995, framed gelatin silver prints and paint on wall; over all dimensions vary with installation; fourteen parts: 25 5/8 x 32 7/8 in. each, image size: 14 7/8 x 22 7/8 in. each. Installation view of Felix Gonzalez Torres Untitled (Vultures) 1995 at Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, 1995 (in Felix Gonzalez Torres ed ited by Julie Ault. Gttingen: Steidldangin Publishers, 2006 page 33
61 LIST OF REFERENCES "Send Letters, Postcards, Drawings, and Objects..." Art Journal 36, no. 3 (Spring, 1977): pp. 233 241, http://www.js tor.org/stable/776202 ACT UP New York. Accessed January 19, 2011. http://www.actupny.org/ ArtNexus No. 15 (January March 1995): 56 61; repu blished in Third Text no. 30 (Spring 1995): 67 78. http://www.andrearosengallery.com/artists/felix g onzalez torres/. Ault, Julie. Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Julie Ault, Gttingen: Steidldangin Publishers, 2006. 281 316. --, Brian Wallis, Marianne Weems, and Philip Yenawine. Art Matters : How the Culture Wars Changed America New York: New York U niversity Press, 1999. Artforum 29, no. 6 (February 1991): 79 83. Chicago Reader May 25, 1990, sec. 1. Felix Gonzalez Torres edited by Julie Ault, 185 196. Gttingen: Steidldangin Publishers, 2006. Bersani, Leo. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998. Bomb no. 51 (spring 1995): 42 47. Caballero, Germn ez ArtNexus 2, no. 48 (April June 2003): 82 83. Co London Times June 21, 2000. Crimp, Douglas. "Mourning and Militancy." October 51, (Winter, 1989) : 3 18. Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings : Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures Series Q. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003. Arts Magazine 64, no. 8 (April 1990): 111 12. Village Voice (June 17, 1989): 93.
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66 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Christian Alberto Wurst was born in Lima, Peru. He received his Bachelo rs of Arts student at the University of Florida, his work focused on 20 th century American art and queer theory.