Installation view from the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres," at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

David Zwirner is pleased to present an exhibition of works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Spanning the gallery’s 519, 525, and 533 West 19th Street spaces in New York, the exhibition will feature four major installations—two of which have never been realized in the manner envisioned by Gonzalez-Torres before his untimely death in 1996 from complications related to AIDS. This will be the second solo exhibition of Gonzalez-Torres’s work at David Zwirner since the announcement that the gallery would be joining Andrea Rosen Gallery in co-representing the artist’s estate.

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Image: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Sagitario), 1994-1995 (detail)

Dates
January 12February 25, 2023
Gallery Hours
Tues—Sat 10am–6pm

“[Gonzalez-Torres’s] exhibitions were never mere accumulations of stuff in spaces meant for aesthetic contemplation; they were sites wherein to articulate and put to work specific theoretical, conceptual, aesthetic, and political positions. Furthermore, an exhibition was a site capable of inciting critical agency, a fundamentally public forum, no matter how many people it reached or how private it might have seemed.”

—Elena Filipovic, director and chief curator, Kunsthalle Basel

From Harvard to David Zwirner, the newest episode of PROGRAM journeys inside the making of and meaning behind Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s portrait works through conversations with artists Glenn Ligon and Coco Fusco, and longtime Gonzalez-Torres collector Nancy Magoon.
An untitled installation by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, dated 1994 to 1995.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

"Untitled", 1994-1995
Mixed media
Dimensions vary with installation

Through this special and intentional selection of works and the distinctive format in which they are presented, this exhibition affords new and reconceived approaches to understanding and experiencing Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s art. Seen together, the works on view elucidate the artist’s remarkable ability to evoke the personal in the monumental and the sublime in the understated, and his interest in shifting ideas of what may be perceived as permanent and what may be perceived as malleable.

The exhibition features two works that have never previously been seen as they were originally intended by the artist. One of these works, “Untitled” (1994–1995), is composed of two freestanding billboard structures. Though related to his well-known billboard works, “Untitled” is distinctive in that it is an indoor immersive installation incorporating timed sound and lighting components.

 Installation view of the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres" at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023
Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023
Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

Each bears a black-and-white image by Gonzalez-Torres depicting a bird flying beneath overcast skies—a motif that the artist returned to frequently across a variety of mediums.

Reorienting billboards in an indoor space relates to an important theme within Gonzalez-Torres’s practice of creating complexity around the perceived boundaries between public versus private space.

This work accentuates the performative aspects of so many of Gonzalez-Torres’s works, bringing to mind the artist’s engagement with a Brechtian conception of theater and notions of an active viewer.

A detail from an untitled work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, dated 1994-1995
Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023
Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

“Brecht says to keep a distance to allow the viewer, the public, time to reflect and think. When you get out of the theater you should not have had a catharsis, you should have had a thinking experience. More than anything, break the pleasure of representation, the pleasure of the flawless narrative. This is not life, this is just a theater piece. I like that a lot: This is not life, this is just an artwork. I want you, the viewer, to be intellectually challenged, moved, and informed.”

—Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Installation view of an Untitled work, dated 1989, in Corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, Sheridan Square, New York, dated 1989

Installation view, “Untitled” (1989), Corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, Sheridan Square, New York, 1989. Sponsored by the Public Art Fund, New York

Installation view, “Untitled” (1989), Corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, Sheridan Square, New York, 1989. Sponsored by the Public Art Fund, New York

An installation view of an untitled work (The New Plan), dated 1991 in Benjamin Franklin Highway, Frizzleburg, Pennsylvania, as part of the exhibition AGENCY: Art and Advertising at McDonough Museum of Art, Youngstown, Ohio, dated 2008
Installation view, “Untitled” (The New Plan) (1991), Benjamin Franklin Highway, Frizzleburg, Pennsylvania, part of the exhibition AGENCY: Art and Advertising, McDonough Museum of Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 2008. Photo by Carl Leet.
Installation view, “Untitled” (The New Plan) (1991), Benjamin Franklin Highway, Frizzleburg, Pennsylvania, part of the exhibition AGENCY: Art and Advertising, McDonough Museum of Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 2008. Photo by Carl Leet.
An installation view of an Untitled work, dated 1991, in Pollokshaws Road and Coplaw Street, Glasgow, as part of the exhibition Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics in Tramway of Glasgow, dated 1992
Installation view, “Untitled” (1991), Pollokshaws Road and Coplaw Street, Glasgow, part of the exhibition Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics, Tramway, Glasgow, 1992
Installation view, “Untitled” (1991), Pollokshaws Road and Coplaw Street, Glasgow, part of the exhibition Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics, Tramway, Glasgow, 1992
An installation view of an Untitled work or It's Just a Matter of Time, dated 1992, as part of the exhibition titled Ethics and Aesthetics in Times of AIDS, at Kunstverein in Hamburg, dated 1992
Installation view, “Untitled” (It's Just a Matter of Time) (1992), part of the exhibition Gegendarstellung – ethik und ästhetik im zeitalter von aids [Ethics and Aesthetics in Times of AIDS], Kunstverein in Hamburg, 1992
Installation view, “Untitled” (It's Just a Matter of Time) (1992), part of the exhibition Gegendarstellung – ethik und ästhetik im zeitalter von aids [Ethics and Aesthetics in Times of AIDS], Kunstverein in Hamburg, 1992
An Installation view of an untitled work, dated 1992 at Rue Kerckx, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium, as part of the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form, at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels dated 2010
Installation view, “Untitled” (1992), Rue Kerckx, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium, part of the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form, Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 2010. Photo by Thomas Bernardet
Installation view, “Untitled” (1992), Rue Kerckx, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium, part of the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form, Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, 2010. Photo by Thomas Bernardet

Gonzalez-Torres’s first billboard work was installed in New York’s Sheridan Square in 1989 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Subsequently, the billboards became a significant body of work, exhibited widely and intended to be unmarked and installed in diverse locations, accessible to a wide range of audiences and their interpretations.

An installation by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, called "Untitled" (Sagitario), dated 1994 to 1995.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

"Untitled" (Sagitario), 1994-1995
Medium varies with installation, water
24 x 12 feet overall
Two parts: 12 feet in diameter each

“Untitled” (1994–1995) and “Untitled” (Sagitario) (1994–1995) are two installations that were scheduled to debut at a significant one-person exhibition at CAPC musée d’art contemporain de Bordeaux in 1995. For institutional reasons, the exhibition was rescheduled and ultimately never occurred.

“Untitled” (Sagitario) consists of two twelve-foot diameter circular reflecting pools, embedded and level with the floor of the gallery space. The pools are positioned to be just touching, causing a nearly imperceptible exchange of water. Among many readings, this exchange could evoke the sharing of bodily fluids, contamination, and the specter of AIDS.

 Installation view from the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres," at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Sagitario), 1994-1995 (detail)

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Sagitario), 1994-1995 (detail)

The word Sagitario in the work’s parenthetical title translates to Sagittarius in English, which may bring to mind the constellation of the same name. At the time Gonzalez-Torres was working, there was a theory that Sagittarius was a binary star system comprised of two stars that orbited around each other so closely they exchanged gasses and illuminated one another.

While this understanding is now disputed by scientists and astronomers, it remains widely accepted that visualizations of any cosmic phenomenon depend heavily on the circumstances, perspective, and positioning of any individual viewer. This notion would likely have appealed to the artist, who consistently sought to shift and expand readings of his work over time.

 Installation view of the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres" at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

Expanding upon his motif of paired circular objects, Gonzalez-Torres sketched at least five variations of the pools between 1992 and 1995, only two of which he considered works. The other iteration, designed to be installed outdoors, debuted at the 2007 Venice Biennale and is now in the collection of the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland.

An installation view of an Untitled work, dated 1992–1995, as part of the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America, The United States Pavilion, 52nd International Art Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia in Venice, dated 2007

Installation view, “Untitled” (1992–1995), part of the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America, The United States Pavilion, 52nd International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2007. Photo by Ellen Page Wilson

Installation view, “Untitled” (1992–1995), part of the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America, The United States Pavilion, 52nd International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 2007. Photo by Ellen Page Wilson

An installation view of an Untitled work, dated 1992–1995, in Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland, 2008–ongoing

Installation view, Untitled” (1992–1995), Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland, 2008–ongoing. Photo by Len Morgan

Installation view, Untitled” (1992–1995), Glenstone, Potomac, Maryland, 2008–ongoing. Photo by Len Morgan

“Two tangential, circular pools of water with a nearly invisible opening at the point of contact, just enough to make the water a common element. The project belongs to his ‘couples’ theme, but I also read it as a metaphor for his work as a whole, an imperceptible joining of the public and private, the artistic and the political, the aesthetic and conceptual in one common body.”

—Gerardo Mosquera, curator, critic, art historian, and writer

A sculpture by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, called "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), dated 1993.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

"Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993
Paint on wall
Dimensions vary with installation

*Version by Coco Fusco

Each of the galleries also present distinct versions of “Untitled” (Portrait of the Magoons) (1993), one of Gonzalez-Torres’s word portraits. The portrait works are the only body of Gonzalez-Torres’s work that were made in collaboration with the initial owners. When an owner manifests or lends a portrait, they may determine the version or versions that will be installed, or they may choose to extend the right to make a version to another individual with the knowledge of the specific, yet open-ended parameters of the work.

The presentation of three versions of the work highlights its ability to exist in more than one place at a time, underscoring the fact that at the core of the portraits is Gonzalez-Torres’s intention that each manifestation be an opportunity for a new version, in which content could be added, removed, changed or rearranged, that is, to be perpetually mutable. The shifting content/authorship of the portraits over time also conveys a nuanced critique of representation and the perspectives from which histories are written.

 Installation view of the exhibition titled Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2023

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023. Version by Nancy Magoon.

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023. Version by Nancy Magoon.

“When you look at a portrait photograph of someone you don’t know, you pretty much bring your own connotations to a denoted set of characteristics. In other words, from an image you switch to language, which is the only way we humans can ‘read’ an image. In these portrait-pieces, I try to reverse the process. I start with language and then I ask the viewer to provide an image.”

—Felix Gonzalez-Torres

 Installation view of the exhibition titled Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2023

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023. Version by Glenn Ligon.

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023. Version by Glenn Ligon.

In this exhibition, distinct versions of “Untitled” (Portrait of the Magoons) have been determined by Coco Fusco and Glenn Ligon, two artists whose expansive practices and interests dovetail with Gonzalez-Torres’s, as well as a new version by Nancy Magoon, who, along with her late husband Robert, are the portrait’s subjects and original owners.

 Installation view of the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres," at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail). Version by Coco Fusco.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail). Version by Coco Fusco.

Installation view of the exhibition titled Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2023

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail). Version by Nancy Magoon.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail). Version by Nancy Magoon.

 Installation view of the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres," at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail). Version by Glenn Ligon.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail). Version by Glenn Ligon.

Installation view of the exhibition titled Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2023

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail), installed in the home of a private collector

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Portrait of the Magoons), 1993 (detail), installed in the home of a private collector

“Gonzalez-Torres insists in his work that beauty is not best expressed or contained in the enduring art object; rather in the moment of experience, of human interaction, the passion of remembrance that serves as a catalyst urging on the will to create. The art object is merely a mirror, giving a glimpse that is also a shadow of what was once real, present, concrete. It is this invitation to enter a world of shadows that his work extends.”

—bell hooks, author and writer

A sculpture by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, titled "Untitled" (Public Opinion), dated 1991.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

"Untitled" (Public Opinion), 1991
Black rod licorice candies in clear wrappers, endless supply
Overall dimensions vary with installation
Ideal weight: 700 lb
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

In the middle gallery is “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), a candy work on loan from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Like all of Gonzalez-Torres’s candy pieces, it can shift in scale, form, and number of simultaneous locations in each manifestation, in addition to potentially being affected by the audience’s interaction. While at one point the malleability of Gonzalez-Torres’s candy works may have felt like a radical shift in how one perceives the state of an object, this transient nature may now be seen as the norm within his practice. 

The purposeful presentation of “Untitled” (Public Opinion) within this exhibition—displayed amongst significant works that operate through intentionally divergent logics and structures, particularly in relation to notions of solidity and permanence—serves to highlight the constantly shifting methodologies Gonzalez-Torres utilized in order to inspire engagement with the ways that change fosters questioning and meaning.

 Installation view of the exhibition titled Felix Gonzalez-Torres at David Zwirner, New York, dated 2023
Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023
Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

“Perhaps [the works are a metaphor for the relation] between public and private, between personal and social, between fear of loss and the joy of loving, of growing, changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and then being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need the public interaction.”

—Felix Gonzalez-Torres

An installation view of an Untitled work or Public Opinion, dated 1991, as part of the exhibition titled Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011, at MoMA PS1 in New York, dated 2019–2020
Installation view, “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), part of the exhibition Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011, MoMA PS1, New York, 2019–2020
Installation view, “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), part of the exhibition Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011, MoMA PS1, New York, 2019–2020
A installation view of an Untitled work or Public Opinion, dated 1991 at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York, dated 2017
Installation view, “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York, part of the exhibition Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin: A talking parrot, a high school drama class, a Punjabi TV show, the oldest song in the world, a museum artwork, and a congregation’s call to action circle through New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017. Photo by Kristopher McKay
Installation view, “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York, part of the exhibition Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin: A talking parrot, a high school drama class, a Punjabi TV show, the oldest song in the world, a museum artwork, and a congregation’s call to action circle through New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2017. Photo by Kristopher McKay
An installation view of an untitled work by Felix Gonzalez-Torres
Installation view, “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), part of the exhibition Winter, Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, Canada, 2022. Photo by LFD Documentation
Installation view, “Untitled” (Public Opinion) (1991), part of the exhibition Winter, Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, Canada, 2022. Photo by LFD Documentation
Installation view from the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres," at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Public Opinion), 1991 (detail)
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Public Opinion), 1991 (detail)

“A self-acknowledged gay man who suffered the death of his longtime companion, Gonzalez-Torres expressed … his outrage at a social system that marginalizes homosexuals in much of his work. ‘Untitled’ (Public Opinion) … is a dark, aggressive work. The missilelike shape of the candy and its brooding, almost sinister, appearance alludes to our culture’s pervasive militaristic outlook and hostile hegemonic stance.”

—Nancy Spector, curator

An untitled C-print jigsaw puzzle in plastic bag by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, dated 1989.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

"Untitled", 1989
C-print jigsaw puzzle in plastic bag
7 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches

The present work is one of fifty-five individual personal snapshots that the artist produced as editioned jigsaw puzzles. The puzzles were made using commercial, quick-access photo labs, transforming imagery through the kind of process that one might use to make souvenirs.

 Installation view of the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres," at David Zwirner in New York, dated 2023

 Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

 Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, David Zwirner, New York, 2023

“Uncertainty has inspired artists like Gonzalez-Torres to explore the possibilities of a more modest art, one that tends toward the form of questions rather than answers. Immersing the serial products of industrial systems within the social matrix of individual association and memory, this healing art attempts to restore wholeness to the everyday.”

—David Deitcher, writer, art historian, and critic

Detail view of an untitled Felix Gonzales Torres work

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled", 1989 (detail)

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled", 1989 (detail)

The puzzles speak to the artist’s interest in commercial and readily available production methods, as well as questions about how to imbue emotionality and intention within the absence of the artist’s hand. Along with his use of candy and stacks of paper, the puzzles exemplify Gonzalez-Torres's interest in the fragment and the whole, and presence and absence.

Installation view of the exhibition "Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection" at The Whitney Museum of American Art,  in New York, NY. dated 2011.

Installation view, Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2011. Photo by Tim Nighswander

Installation view, Legacy: The Emily Fisher Landau Collection, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2011. Photo by Tim Nighswander

Installation view of the exhibition "Felix Gonzalez-Torres" at the The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, NY. Dated 1995.

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995

Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995

“Action for Gonzalez-Torres is not an abstract matter. Nor need it take place on a grand scale. Everything begins with the individual … who leaves, ready to cast a fresh eye upon her or his surroundings. What is important is the idea of passage, from museum to street, from the personal (the loss of a loved one) to the political (the loss of privacy), from private to public, and then back again. Also at issue are notions of change and renewal, the idea that meanings are not static but shift according to who we are and where we are at any given moment.”

—Anne Umland, senior curator, the Museum of Modern Art, New York

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