Currently on show at Hauser & Wirth, London, along with Andrea Rosen Gallery and Massimo De Carlo in New York and Milan respectively, is a three-part exhibition of work by the late Cuban-born, American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres, curated by artists Julie Ault and Roni Horn. Each of the exhibitions will showcase different aspects of the artist’s practice. While the London show takes works specifically from the year 1991, the Andrea Rosen show will focus on his bed-curtain works and Massimo De Carlo will exhibit his textural portraits.
Considered to be one of the most influential artists of his generation, Gonzalez-Torres boldly decreed conceptual art as a failure, yet, ironically, saw this very failure as an achievement. He believed it was possible to learn and progress by examining the canon of art history. Committed to working within his own principles, Gonzalez-Torres married conceptual art with minimalism, poetic beauty and political activism, ultimately producing a body of work that evolved alongside his ever-expanding selection of mediums. From light-fixtures to give-away candy installations and public billboards, his art offered important messages, often referencing themes surrounding life, death, loss and injustice.
Direct, highly emotional and at times provocative, his work reflects the impact of the 1980s/’90s Aids crisis, both on his art and his life (Gonzalez-Torres died from Aids-related illness in 1996, not long after his partner passed away from similar complications). With this in mind, Ault and Horns curation of the London show focuses on works the artist produced in 1991, the year his partner, Ross Laylock, died. Each untitled work exhibited is evocative of both love and loss. An aura of tranquillity permeates the space, creating an almost shrine like quality as it pays tribute to both the artist and his partner.
Upon entering one is faced with the ‘Untitled’ (Fear) 1991, a blue-tinted mirror. Its melancholy colour confronts the viewers and sets the rather pensive tone of the show. Similarly, the second room hosts ‘Untitled’ (Orpheus, Twice) 1991, a pair of floor-length mirrors, which, at a certain angle, reflect the ominous light installation ‘Untitled’ (March 5th) #2. Again, the mirror and its introspective associations force the viewers to face the personal questions the show brings to the surface. Likewise, presented with two insubstantial light bulbs suspended from white cables, it feels that the viewer is promoted to read the fragility of life (potentially symbols of both the artist and his partner) into this work as we wait for the bulbs, hanging precariously, to go out.
The curators close and personal relationships with the artist, and their understanding of his creative trajectory, make for an exhibition that allows the spectator to view Gonzalez-Torres’ art with an open-mind, rather than being presented with a specific or “correct” way of looking.