The oeuvre of the American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres is representative of an artistic standpoint of the 80s and 90s which, in terms of both form and content, questions and redefines traditional notions of art. To this end, the artist resorts to the reduced fonnal vocabulary of the Minimal and Conceptual Art of the 60s, but charges it with political content and personal experiences.
Autobiographical references, the omnipresence of political systems and ideologies and the reality of AIDS pervade the entire oeuvre of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Love, transience and death are the dominant themes of his works, their very quality residing in the fact that the artist does not illustrate these themes outright but merely suggests them in his own special language of elementary symbols. His work "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers), for example, consists of two wall clocks which keep exactly the same time. Whilst they symbolize perfect love, they also remind us of its finiteness. This poetically metaphorical allusion to life and transience draws its strength from its sheer simplicity.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres' work "Untitled" (Death by Gun) lies on the floor like a minimalist brick. It is a pile of billboard prints - a so-called stack - from which, as in the case of all his stacks, viewers are free to pick up a print and take it home with them. Consequently the stack is both a sculpture and an unlimited edition. The work of art in the museum is now something that can be touched, no longer taboo, an encouraging invitation to the viewer to take an active part in the work. Whilst the billboard print then becomes a thing of private use, it still retains its functions a vehicle of memories, ideas and information. Thus the political appeal against violence and the possession of frrearms which the artist voices in this stack is propagated and discussed outside of the museum, outside of the context of art.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres develops the idea of the multiple a step further by involving the viewer in the sculpture, making him a part of it:
"I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility, to become part of my work, to join in. I tend to think of myself as a theater director who is trying to convey some ideas."
It is through this principle of disintegration and dispersion that the artist achieves a radical redefinition of sculpture. This same principle is applied in his candy sculptures. These huge piles of candies, which are of a weight corresponding to that of a human being, represent portraits. One example is "Untitled" (Ross). Entirely in keeping with the nature of material, the viewer is invited to eat the candies, thus quite literally consuming the work of art. Here, too, the sculpture is a metaphor of transience.
The puzzle editions, which Felix Gonzalez-Torres produced from c-prints, are jigsaw puzzles sealed in polythene film. The actual function of the puzzle, i.e. the creation of the illusion of piecing a picture together, whether alone or with others, is here completely undermined. These puzzles are delicate objects whose owners have been invested with the responsibility of preserving the fragile context of the motifs. Toe puzzle motifs are personal or show the intimate sides of public appearances, as in "Untitled" (Paris, Last Time, 1919) or "Untitled" (Waldheim to the Pope). They are reminiscent of photo albums. The preserving of the puzzles is also a preserving of the memories which are bound up with the individual motifs.
This retrospective exhibition shows over 40 works selected from the artist's most important work cycles. Besides his stacks, candy sculptures and puzzles, the exhibition also contains light installations, photographs and billboards. The artist's billboard print "Untitled", 1991, is displayed outside of the museum. It shows the artist's unmade bed - a private situation, a place of love, lust, birth and death, which is now made public. The exhibition affords a comprehensive insight into the oeuvre of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, an artist whose art operates in a state of tension between disintegration and dispersion, between privacy and publicity. The exhibition is accompanied by a copious, two-volume catalogue containing contributions from several art critics and historians and fully illustrated overview of the artist's oeuvre.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres was born in Guáimaro, Cuba, in 1957. In 1979 he went to live in New York. From 1987 until 1991 he was a member of the artist' collective GROUP MATERIAL. Exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York (1995) and the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1996) brought him international fame. Felix Gonzalez-Torres died in Miami in January 1996.