Reflecting on the landmark career and tragically short life of artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner has opened its first exhibition dedicated to his work. Zwirner has partnered with Andrea Rosen to jointly represent the artist’s estate worldwide, a move that promises increasingly broad exposure and support for his vision and canon.
The Cuban-born artist’s work drew on a tightly-honed language of interaction, intimacy and memory, filtered through his distinct sense of minimalism. Having passed away in 1996 of complications from his battle with AIDS, his pieces and projects live on, a spiritually and emotionally rich body of practice drawing on his bold engagement with his own life and the circumstances of loss that raged through the gay community in New York during the 1980’s and 90’s.
Here, Gonzalez-Torres’s work is allowed ample space to breathe, posing striking questions of embodiment and space throughout the gallery. One of the artist’s last works, Untitled (Water) (1995), for instance, places thin beaded curtains in the doorways of the gallery, emphasizing the act of movement and passage from one room to the next, while the artist’s range of “stack” and “spill” works emphasize processes of decay and renewal. Both his famed candy pieces and poster stacks are included in the exhibition, challenging the viewer to take a certain degree of responsibility and self-awareness in their relationship to these works. It becomes a question of care for the viewer, maintaining the presence of the work or its disappearance through their own agency, a note that takes increased resonance when one considers the works’ close ties to the death of Gonzalez-Torres’s partner Ross Laycock (the candy works frequently are weighed to equal that of his partner’s body before he succumbed to AIDS).
Gonzalez-Torres’s work frequently pulls on these intersections of presence and absence, often in engagement with momentary encounters and delicate points of action. Much like the candy works, the viewer’s passage through his beaded curtains are limited to a momentary gesture, moving through to the other side in a manner that both emphasizes physicality and draws a line between spaces and states of being. Elsewhere, Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) (1991), provides a quiet space for a daily performance, where a headphone-clad dancer moves to music only they can hear. Even in the visual experience of the body and movement, Gonzalez-Torres maintains an act of withdrawal and withholding of both experience and information, gestures that welcome empathy and inquiry rather than a simple experiential moment.
The exhibition also features a series of billboard installations featuring the artist’s recognizable body of printed works spread across New York’s bustling urban topography. Wiping clean the spaces intended for commercial messages and direct prompts, Gonzalez-Torres’s work opens these sites to new acts of imagination and understanding, a sense of freedom that both strengthens an understanding of his work, and offers a momentary act of remembrance for an artist lost all too soon.
Gonzalez-Torres’s work is on view at David Zwirner through June 24th.
— D. Creahan
Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner [Exhibition Site]