I hopped onto the end of a tour at the Art Institute and got to hear a little about the piece Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.). I really liked it so I decided to pick Gonzalez-Torres as one of the three I’d research.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres was born in Cuba and lived in New York and Miami. He is known for his minimal installations, sometimes considered to be related to his experience with AIDS. He was part of a collaboration of artists known as Group Material, a New York-based group of artists who set out to work collaboratively, aiming for cultural activism and community education. He may be thought of as a process artist because of his removable installations in which the process of it being removed is an important part of the installation. For example, some installations are comprised of many pieces of candy where the viewer is invited to take a piece. These installations have an “ideal weight,” which they fluctuate in and out of as the candy runs out out and is replenished. Gonzalez-Torres was selected posthumously as the official representative for the U.S. pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennial. It featured a never-before-realized sculpture, Untitled, 1992-95, which was two adjoining circular pools, with the sides touching just enough at one point to let a small stream of water to flow through. He died in 1996 from AIDS related complications.
In the Art Institute the tour guide talked about Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) a little bit. She explained that Ross referred to Ross Laycock, Gonzalez-Torres’ partner. Ross was dying of AIDS. The pile of candy that was the installation was intended to be taken from by the viewer. The tour guide talked about how it could be seen as a reference to Ross’ body as he was dying, how it was disintegrating, and at the same time the artist is wanting to give you something sweet, which then goes into your body. The candy pile gets replenished though, and I thought that this could also perhaps reference regeneration. Perhaps the sweetness of the candy could be related to life and its sweetness and how it can last only so long before it dissolves. Maybe the artist saw his partner dying and wanted to extend to the viewer a reminder, a lesson of life being short so make it good. I thought it was a very sad piece but like many sad pieces also hopeful and compassionate.
Here are some more links on Felix Gonzalez Torres: