Imprints of Gonzalez-Torres' search for eternity
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Two round wall clocks, two rectangular mirrors and two pillows on an empty bed — the two identical shapes evoke a sense of similarity, but they can never be the same.
The first retrospective of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) in Asia, an artist who explored the fear of death and sought eternity, “Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Double” is going on show at Plateau in central Seoul.
Gonzalez-Torres was born in Cuba and grew up in Spain and Puerto Rico before moving to New York City in 1979. He was an immigrant, homosexual and AIDS patient, but instead of remaining as a minority, he used the mainstream to establish his world of art. Though he passed away at the early age of 38, his influence on contemporary art is eminent.
This exhibit features 44 of Gonzalez-Torres’ works, which are minimal and reflect his private life. “Untitled” (North) greets visitors in the lobby, opposite Auguste Rodin’s “The Gates of Hell.” It is composed of strings of incandescent light bulbs and glows warmly in the middle of the gallery. The piece reminds one of finite human life, just like short-lived lights.
“For Gonzalez-Torres, north would have been America, the land of dreams, or Canada, where his lover Ross Laycock lived,” Ahn So-yeon, curator of Plateau, said.
“Untitled” (Beginning), with strings of green, silver and transparent beads, functions as a divide between the lobby and the exhibition hall. Gonzalez-Torres elected to hang the artwork in entrances, so visitors have to make contact with it to enter.
His works are like minimalist sculptures in form. “Untitled” (Aparicion) is a stack of monochrome posters bearing an image of vast sky and a flying bird. Visitors can take a piece of paper with them and it would be refilled endlessly.
“Untitled” (Lover Boy) and “Untitled” (Placebo) introduce the artist’s world in a poetic way. “Untitled” (Lover Boy) consists of thin sky blue fabric fluttering at the window. Gonzalez-Torres said it is the color of happy memories to him.
On the floor is a large rectangular spill of candies wrapped in silver cellophane that makes up “Untitled” (Placebo). A placebo is a medically ineffectual drug designed to deceive patients and through the piece the artist refers to the U.S. government’s belated clinical tests on AIDS patients.
Gonzalez-Torres only designated the ideal weight for his candy pile works, which is 454-544 kilograms for this one, and visitors to the museum can take the candies, scattering the shape. The sweets consumed by visitors may indicate the frailty of life, but they are replenished by the museum at some point, which connotes the artist’s desire for permanence and renewal.
The influence of the artist’s lover can be found easily throughout the exhibition. “Untitled” (Oscar Wilde) is a photograph of a handwritten phrase from Wilde’s “Salome,” which admires the male body. It could be indirect praise for his partner, who died in 1991 from AIDS.
The long, narrow pile of green candies is “Untitled” (Rossmore II). The title came from the name of a road where the artist and his lover lived together in Los Angles and the green color refers to the grass by the road.
Another edition of “Untitled” (Rossmore II) is installed at Samsung Life Seocho Tower in southern Seoul. “It is a common office building and people will encounter this artwork unexpectedly,” Ahn said.
The readymade clocks of “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) were set to the exact same time when they were installed at Plateau. However, the mechanical nature of the clock has already made a slight difference and one of them will eventually stop ahead of the other. The identical shape of the clocks may refer to homosexuality, but it could symbolize any lovers.
Plateau borrowed all three editions of “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) and installed those at three different locations — the exhibition hall of Plateau, the Plateau art shop and Leeum.
The exhibit goes beyond the museum’s boundaries and six “Untitled” billboards, a photograph of an unoccupied bed with two pillows, are installed across Seoul and on Nami Island. Bringing such a private moment to a public billboard, the 1991 work expresses Gonzalez-Torres’ sense of loss and makes the viewers relate to their personal memories.
Gonzalez-Torres’ works leave long-lasting impressions. Visitors might remember the artist and his works when they eat a candy, look at a clock or see an empty bed.
“Double” runs through Sept. 28 and is closed Mondays. Admission is 3,000 won for adults and 2,000 won for students. A docent program is available at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day. For more information, visit www.plateau.or.kr or call 1577-7595.