Noted conceptual artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres conceived of his word portraits as a way to bridge personal and communal experience. Composed of a series of seemingly unrelated texts referencing specific events and dates, Gonzalez-Torres’s word portraits record occurrences that are both highly personal to the portrait’s owner (whether an individual or institution) and historic in nature, underscoring the importance of shared experience in the shaping of identity. Here, placed within the context of an installation of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern art, “Untitled” (Portrait of Michael Jenkins) calls particular attention to the ways in which events of the past shape our understanding of the present.Part of the responsibility of owning the portrait includes adding (and subtracting) events. In Winter 2014, a group of nine Harvard undergraduates participated in intensive discussions about Gonzalez-Torres’s work and the conceptual framework informing this portrait. Each student proposed two texts with dates drawn from formative personal experiences, both public and private, that were then shared with the group. Eight of these events were added to Gonzalez-Torres’s original words. The text evokes static historical friezes that reach back to the Classical past, yet its variability reflects the mutability of history and its interpretation by individuals across time and place.

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