When you think a portrait, what do you see? A picture of someone’s face, maybe their shoulders or the rest of their body as well.
You wouldn’t think a portrait would look like any of these...
These are all portraits by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, minimalist installations that capture the artist’s loved ones without referencing the way they looked. These works and more were on show at the Rockbund, thoughtfully and movingly curated by Larys Frogier and Li Qi.
Gonzalez-Torres’ “dateline” pieces, such as Untitled (Portrait of Andrea Rosen) assemble various dates and cultural references together, prompting the viewer to guess at the relation between them and their relation to Gonzalez-Torres’ subject, in this case the artist’s close friend and his primary gallerist. This work started first with key dates of personal milestones from Rosen that Gonzalez-Torres added to. But even more remarkably, he also authorised the owner of the artwork to add or subtract entries, so that the piece is actually continually renewed for its place and audience. Can you spot a super current choice by the Rockbund curators here?
Stacks of paper call to mind a monument to a person, or even a tombstone. Visitors are encouraged to take sheets of the paper with them, to do whatever they want with it. And that’s how people perceive and interact with one another too - the piece you ‘take out’ of an individual might be quite different from the piece that someone else takes. In the case of Untitled (Double Portrait), the two circles lightly touching each other is a recurring motif, a symbol of ‘perfect lovers’ - two people in perfect unison and, as another piece Untitled (Perfect Lovers) so pointedly shows via two clocks with the same time, perfectly synchronised.
Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) is a pile of candies specified to weigh 175 lbs, the weight of Gonzalez-Torres’ lover Ross who died from AIDS in 1991.
Stop here for a moment and just think about that.
It is also the first pile of candies to have ever made me cry. The candies in their wrappers are shiny, bright and joyful, a touching celebration of a person he loved. As with the paper stacks, visitors are encouraged to freely take candies from the pile, an open-hearted gesture from the artist and at the same time the diminishing pile becomes a symbol of Ross’ body diminishing from illness. Yet hope persists: every night after the show’s closing hours, the candies are replenished again, and the renewed pile bravely continues on.
There is SO much more that I want to write about this deeply touching show, so many more pieces I want to share… but I know I ramble. Let me end this post then with a song that this show brought back to my mind - a song that came out the month Gonzalez-Torres passed away, a song about life, loss and love.
“Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life
Of a woman or a man?
In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died
Remember the love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your life in love”
Rockbund Art Museum
Curated by Larys Frogier and Li Qi
Until Dec 25