“Why should we let the art of Félix González-Torres contaminate us in 2020? (Review)

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Matthieu Jacquet (Numéro) explains, “In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of his work ‘Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner),’ created from a pile of fortune cookies in the corner of a room, gallery owners Andrea Rosen and David Zwirner had an idea: to render tribute to Cuban-American artist Félix González-Torres, who died prematurely in 1996, with a world exhibition, inviting 1,000 people to exhibit a version of the work in the place of their choice. Carrying a powerful message at the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, this original project invites us to immerse ourselves in the abundant work of the artist who, thirty years later, is more relevant than ever.”

“Félix González-Torres, ‘Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner),’ 1990” is taking place from May 25 through July 5 all around the world. Find the complete list here. [Also see previous post This Felix Gonzalez-Torres artwork is currently installed at 1000 sites around the world/.]

Jacquet writes:

History brings us back to thirty years ago, 1990. We are then at the peak of the AIDS pandemic, which since the beginning of the 80s continues to grow: at the time, the number of victims of this disease worldwide was estimated at one million. While the expression the “AIDS years” has just appeared in France, in the gay weekly Gai Pied, Cuban-born artist Félix González-Torres exhibits for the first time at the Andrea Rosen gallery in New York, which is just starting to represent him. Among his works, an installation hits home: a pile of several hundred fortune cookies stacked in one of the corners of the room. Each visitor is invited to take one, crack the cookie in half and discover inside a sentence foreshadowing the near future, the course to follow, or simply their unconscious philosophy. “You build your own fortune,” “your generosity will make you famous,” or “don’t be afraid to take this big step” can be read on these typed maxims. The link of this work with the health crisis which then threatens the country, long suppressed and stigmatized by the media, is still not very explicit. However, it will quickly become clear as Félix González-Torres’s installations continue to adopt this same principle: accumulation.

Devoid of titles, the artist’s works are distinguished by the different objects that he gathered. In one, hundreds of printed and stacked sheets of paper form a homogeneous block, in another, dozens of bulbs spread over a vertically hung garland seem to collapse on the ground. In 1991, Félix González-Torres lost his partner Ross Laycock to AIDS and, a few months later, he unveiled Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), his first installation made exclusively of 80 kilos of candy. Wrapped in colored cellophane, these treats carry the fragmentary memory of his lover, each visitor can take a piece home and then taste it. But these sweets, present by the hundreds, are also the sad embodiment of the countless AIDS victims who die every day, often in the greatest silence. If this global and alarming mourning will later inhabit many similar installations, the “candy pieces” signed by the Cuban artist and reproduced all over the world, will also inspire him with other projects. In 1992, for example, he assembled thousands of plastic beads to compose a huge translucent curtain, tinged with a red that is reminiscent of that of hemoglobin. Extended by public action, Félix González-Torres’s art is thus participatory in essence, without being solely playful. Behind the pleasure of the, sometimes gustatory, aesthetic experience, there is a taste of bitterness, anger, and sadness which the leagues of virtue still leave little space for expression.

Discreetly but surely, the intention of Félix González-Torres spreads silently over the years in the institutions whose walls, floors, and walls he occupies, but also among visitors who take it home. A “contamination” that the artist himself does not hesitate to compare with that of an illness: “I want [my art] to be like a virus belonging to the institution,” he confided to his colleague Joseph Kosuth in an analogy precisely underlining the subjects of his creations and their power of reproducibility. After his untimely death at age 38, also from AIDS, the work of Félix González-Torres continues to spread, to be exposed, to be quoted in collections and other publications, as if to break the silence about these famous “AIDS years.” As the omerta on the pandemic breaks and its realities are revealed, his name is legitimized, consecrated until it becomes the symbol of an authentic artistic activism that had not yet been named.

And here we are again, 30 years later, at a time when a new pandemic—the most severe of the 21st century—has brought the world to a halt for months. While this is already causing a difficult entry into the new decade, the year 2020 also marks the 30th anniversary of the work Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner) by Félix González-Torres. The coincidence is not lost on Andrea Rosen, who first exhibited it in her New York space. To celebrate this anniversary, the gallery owner as well as David Zwirner, who also represents the artist, had an idea: to bring his thought to light by playing, as he wished, on the power of multiplication in his works. With the support of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, the initiative thus invited 1,000 people from around the world—artists, gallery owners, exhibition curators, directors of museums or art centers—who knew or frequented the artist, to reproduce in a site of their choice, this installation of fortune cookies according to precise criteria. Exposed to participating visitors since May 25, the batteries will be replenished with cookies on June 14 and then dismantled on July 5, the date at which fortune cookies can no longer be considered to be part of the work.

From Rome to Seoul, from Stockholm to Los Angeles, from Havana to Tel Aviv via Caracas, Brussels and Shanghai, the largest cities in the world are currently hosting these new versions of the work, photographed and then compiled on the website of the Andrea Rosen gallery. In France, you can also come and pick up a cookie in the space of the New Galerie in the heart of the Marais or from the Consortium, a Dijon art center. While confinement has seen many virtual initiatives flourish promoting digital art accessible to all, this transcontinental exhibition in turn defends the ubiquity of the work, capable of both invading Instagram and being present in several places simultaneously, while preserving its physical experience which is essential. “To have the opportunity, especially at this time, to realize that we are participating in something that has so much meaning is inspiring, and I think that this is truly the foundation of Felix’s practice: exploiting this feeling of generosity to both attract and move people through their involvement,” says Andrea Rosen to the The Observer.

Because if Untitled (Fortune Cookie Corner) is, like any work of art should be, free of interpretations, its rereading, in light of an unprecedented health crisis, cannot be abstracted from the current context, which is so heavy and alienating. In the same way that one could, at the time, read in these accumulated objects the list of deaths from AIDS or of Americans shot down, the memory of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Covid-19 resonates in these cookies whose centers contain the lessons of an uncertain future. Behind its morbid connotation, however, there is a much more optimistic message: the concrete realization of an aspiration of a universal art, which, faced with an unprecedented and global tragedy, manages to remind human beings of the importance of being together.

Translated by Ivette Romero. For full article (in French), see https://www.numero.com/fr/numeroart/felix-gonzalez-torres-foundation-fortune-cookies-corner-andrea-rosen-gallery-david-zwirner-galerie-sida-covid-19-confinement-joseph-kosuth-new-galerie-consortium-dijon

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