“Untitled” (I was here) (Felix Gonzalez-Torres, part 9)

Another work created by Gonzalez-Torres in 1994 makes a compelling case, in a different medium though in much the same terms, for the necessity of this experience (of the aporia).  Postdating “Untitled” (The End) by four years, “Untitled” (Beginning) affords its viewer an experience of nonpassage discernibly different from that initiated by the earlier paper stacks.  Its belated exhibition in the artist’s New York gallery was posthumous, in the January following his death from AIDS-related illness in 1996.

“Untitled” (Beginning) consists of hundreds of floor-to-ceiling strings of plastic beads in green, clear and silver extended across the width of the gallery on a metal rod.  It is one of five bead curtains assembled by Gonzalez-Torres, who specifies on their certificates of authenticity that “A part of the intention of this work is that it may be installed and displayed in any entranceway of the owner’s choice.”  “It is necessary that the beads hang from the top of the entranceway to the ground.”  “It is also necessary that the beads fill the entranceway completely from side to side” [Catalogue Raisonnee, 15].

Reviewing the exhibition for the New York Times, Holland Cotter remarked that, in each of the five beadworks, “the colors he used were symbolic.  In this case green predominates, suggesting vegetation and water, and looking through the curtain, one does indeed have the sensation of peering into a fluid surface glinting with light.  Water suggests baptism, and green is the color of hope, symbols that this artist, acutely alert to the power of metaphor, surely factored in” [NYT, January 17, 1997, C27].  An interpretation such as this one, valuable as it is in rendering a visual encounter with the installation, comes to rest on the bead curtain’s “symbolic” or metaphorical sense, and thus overlooks the multiple temporalities inscribed in “Untitled” (Beginning).  One of these, shared indeed by all of the works analyzed here, is an effect of its tacit citation of the artist’s earlier endeavors.  Once again, Simon Watney provides an incisive analysis, urging that

[w]hat we should notice is the way in which he relays meanings between different works, by means of the formal development of individual elements.  Thus the row of light bulbs from “Untitled” (Go-Go Dance Platform) from [the] 1991 [exhibition “Every Week There Is Something Different”] have now taken on a formal life of their own in numerous subsequent light pieces involving strings of light bulbs, just as the gently chiming curtain of glass beads that gave access to the platform has been reworked with red and transparent beads in a visually and conceptually stunning analogue of red and white blood cells, blood vessels, and medical technology [in “Untitled” (Blood) (1992)].  Thus the light pieces [like the paper stacks, billboard works, candy spills and bead curtains – Ed.] also carry with them, as it were, memories (and forgettings) of their original context and its associations.  And all his light pieces, with their poetic connotations of garden parties at night, discos, the Fourth of July, as well as boxing arenas and operating theatres, also carry with them an ever more ghostly shadow of the beautiful Go-Go boy on Prince Street in 1991, proudly and expertly dancing to his favourite Pet Shop Boys remix, and by contingency on the associative field of Placebo, which is also a packed dance floor…. [Watney, 44]

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Filed under Culture, Death, History and historiography, Media, Reading and writing

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