Behind a glass wall that divided the public gallery space from the office, a video played. A series of facts appeared on a blue background; no dates or names offered clues to the real context, but together they hinted at a specific meaning. This piece, "Untitled" (Self-Portrait), 1991, a work in progress, was simultaneously biography, autobiography, and history. Also behind this glass wall hung a photograph of the grave of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas encircled by a bed of flowers, entitled "Untitled" (Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein Grave, Paris), 1992.
In contrast to the intimacy of this space, Felix Gonzalez-Torres made the actual gallery space into a public forum with posters and garlands. In the middle of the room there was a minimalist stack of offset posters for the public to take with them. Their black border indicated that they were death announcements—"Untitled" (Republican Years), 1992—and made the light garlands, each consecutively numbered and entitled "Untitled" (America), 1992, seem cynical. Hidden in the corner was a gelatin silver print of a man’s hand, the life lines drawn in by another hand.
There is a certain consistency of form and content to Gonzalez-Torres’ work. Posters, stacks of paper, lists of headline events from both official and personal history, light garlands, the color blue, carpets of candies, disco platforms—the artist repeats this formal vocabulary again and again with little variation and seemingly small contextual changes in order to transport the viewer into the socio-political realm. For Gonzalez-Torres “the aesthetic is not about politics. It is politics itself.”
In order to mark out the particular in this exhibition, it was necessary to trace the immaterial relationships among the various components. As single works they were torn from their context; the concrete political statement was thus only commentary. Their potential to incite political action was, so to speak, only imported. But beyond the individual works there was the artist’s offer to use the esthetic space of the work as a vehicle of political thought, a determination that is also indicated by his designation of each work as untitled, with more information provided in parentheses. Without making it a major theme, this exhibition was also concerned with the art market and the economics of reception.
Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.