Exhibition: Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America
Venue: 52nd International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale
Dates: 10 June–21 November 2007
Press Opening: 7, 8, & 9 June 2007
Press Preview: Thursday, 7 June, 3 p.m.
(NEW YORK, NY – 16 May 2007) Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957–1996) will represent the United States at the 2007 Venice Biennale. The exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America opens to the public in the Giardini della Biennale, Venice, Italy on 10 June and runs through 21 November 2007.
A Cuban-born American citizen, Gonzalez-Torres is best known for his immensely generous yet rigorously conceptual art in the form of endlessly replenishable paper stacks, take-away candy spills, light strings, beaded curtains, and public billboards. With its minimalist refinement and quiet referentiality, his work treads a fine line between social commentary and personal disclosure, equivocating between the two realms and obscuring the culturally-determined distinctions that separate them. Shifting from cultural activism to intimate, autobiographical dimensions—and subsequently eroding the boundaries between—Gonzalez-Torres used the aesthetic allure of his art to stage a subtle critique of social injustice and intolerance. By creating open-ended, participatory artworks, he entrusted his viewers to engage with and ultimately activate their meaning.
Only the second artist to posthumously represent the United States in the modern history of the Venice Biennale (Robert Smithson was chosen in 1982), Gonzalez-Torres had been previously nominated for the 45th Venice Biennale in 1995, and this exhibition expands upon and rearticulates his original proposal for the U.S. Pavilion. Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, who organized Gonzalez-Torres’s retrospective there in 1995, is the U.S. Commissioner for the 52nd Biennale.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America brings together key examples of the artist’s work in and around the U.S. Pavilion to create a coherent installation focused on Gonzalez-Torres’s optimistic but critical relationship to his adoptive culture. Though all “untitled,” the parenthetical subtitles of his individual works function like whispered cues providing subtle guides to interpretation that only imply and never prescribe. Gonzalez-Torres’s largest and final lightbulb string (comprising twelve illuminated strands), “Untitled” (America), 1994, graces the entrance hall of the pavilion and extends into its public courtyard. In one of the rooms flanking the rotunda appear two paper stacks: “Untitled” (Republican Years), 1992, with its funereal border and “Untitled”, 1991, a photograph of an ocean surface cast in the blackest of light. In the gallery on the other side of the rotunda hangs “Untitled” (Natural History), 1990, a suite of thirteen black-and-white, framed photographs that documents the inventory of idealized (male) roles inscribed in tribute to Theodore Roosevelt on the exterior façade of the American Museum of Natural History in New York: author, statesman, scholar, humanitarian, historian, patriot, ranchman, conservationist, explorer, naturalist, scientist, and soldier. These images surround two paper stacks from 1989 that bear the inscriptions “Memorial Day Weekend” and “Veterans Day Sale,” respectively—wry commentaries on how national(istic) holidays in the United States are commercialized and rendered utterly banal. Initially exhibited together as one work called “Untitled” (Monument), they represent Gonzalez-Torres’s interest in inventing a new kind of public art, one that would remain mutable and open to interpretation. With his take-away paper stacks, the artist attempted to create a type of memorial that was anything but monumental, one that would surrender itself to the desires of its audience, one that would only intimate meaning, one that could, in time, vanish.
In the gallery to the far left of the entrance rests “Untitled” (Public Opinion), 1991, a large carpet of black licorice candies that intimates the complexities of public consensus even as it offers itself to gallery visitors, endlessly distributing itself into the world at large. This work is accompanied by a selection of Gonzalez-Torres’s early photostats—blank, captioned screens that cite political and social events in eccentric inventories of our collective consciousness. In the gallery to the far right of the entrance, an indoor billboard of a lone bird soaring through an open sky covers the long wall as a portal to imaginary states. Its only illumination is the single string of light bulbs, “Untitled” (Leaves of Grass), 1993, which, in this context, references Walt Whitman’s ode to the individual spirit and its essential place in American democracy.
Because Gonzalez-Torres conceived of his art as “viral” in nature, existing both within the museum and dispersed throughout the community by means of its take-away components, the exhibition also includes a series of twelve outdoor billboards of the same image of a bird in flight, installed throughout the city of Venice. Presented without identifying text, these billboard images exist as lyrical spaces for contemplation amid the bustle of urban life.
The exhibition also features “Untitled”, 1992–95, a never-before-realized sculpture in the courtyard of the pavilion: two adjoining, circular reflecting pools, the sides of which touch just enough at a single point to share an almost undetectable flow of water. Between 1992 and 1995 Gonzalez-Torres sketched at least five variations of these pools, expanding upon his motif of paired rings. The first known sketch for the twin pools represents Gonzalez-Torres’s submission to an outdoor sculpture competition sponsored by Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington in 1992. The drawing indicates that each pool should be twelve-feet in diameter, a detail that would remain constant in each subsequent drawing and description. Gonzalez-Torres returned to the motif in 1994 when planning a one-person exhibition for the capc Musée d’Art Contemporain in Bordeaux, which he postponed because of its proximity in time to his Guggenheim retrospective. Tragically, he died before the show could be realized. For the Bordeaux installation, he envisioned a pair of indoor pools flush with the floor. When outlining his ideas for the exhibition, Gonzalez-Torres also created a sketch of an outdoor version of the pools, and this is the one realized on the occasion of the Venice Biennale. Untitled and open-ended in terms of their possible materials, the pools presented here were carved from white Carrara marble.
Presented here as another example of Gonzalez-Torres’s attempt to create a truly “public” art, a monument that relinquishes its authority to the viewer, the pools will serve as both a silent mirror on our collective culture and a beacon of hope. Open to the elements, they will reflect the Venetian skies and echo the billboard of a lone bird soaring through the clouds that simultaneously fills one wall of the pavilion and resonates throughout the surrounding city.
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an introductory essay by Nancy Spector and a conversation among Amada Cruz, Susanne Ghez, and Ann Goldstein, who collaboratively proposed Gonzalez-Torres for the Venice Biennale in 1995.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres was born in Güaimaro, Cuba, in 1957. In 1970, he and his sister were sent to Madrid, where they stayed in an orphanage until settling in Puerto Rico with an aunt and uncle in 1971. Gonzalez-Torres graduated from the Colegio San Jorge in 1976 and began his art studies at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, while actively participating in the local art scene. In 1979 he moved to New York with a fellowship to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. The following year he participated in the Whitney Independent Study Program, where his development as an artist was profoundly influenced by his introduction to postmodern theory. He attended the program a second time in 1983, the year he received his BFA from Pratt. Gonzalez-Torres joined the artists’ collective Group Material (along with Doug Ashford, Julie Ault, and Tim Rollins) in 1987, the year he received his MFA from the International Center of Photography / New York University. Subsequently he taught at New York University and briefly at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.
Gonzalez-Torres’s first solo exhibitions in New York were held at the Intar Latin American Gallery and the Rastovski Gallery in 1988. In 1989, he exhibited a billboard in Sheridan Square, New York City, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. In 1990 he began exhibiting with the Andrea Rosen Gallery, which continues to represent his work today. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, invited Gonzalez-Torres to participate in its Projects series in 1992, for which he created his photographic billboard of an empty, but previously occupied, double bed that was shown in locations throughout the city. During his lifetime, Gonzalez-Torres was the subject of several important museum exhibitions, including Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Traveling in 1994 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, and a retrospective organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1995, which traveled to the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela, and ARC-Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Gonzalez-Torres participated in hundreds of group shows during his lifetime, including early presentations at Artist’s Space and White Columns in New York (1987 and 1988, respectively); the Whitney Biennial (1991); the Venice Biennale (1993); SITE/Santa Fe (1995); and the Sydney Biennale (1996). Since his death, there have been numerous exhibitions devoted to his work, including ones organized by the Sprengel Museum Hannover (1997–98); the Serpentine Gallery, London (2000); and the Biblioteca Luís Angél Arango, Banco de la República, Bogotá, Colombia (1999–2000). Recent exhibitions include a retrospective at the Hamburger Bahnhof–Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin (2006), and an exhibition of formative work executed in Puerto Rico at El Museo del Barrio, New York (2006). Gonzalez-Torres died from complications due to AIDS on January 9, 1996.
Organization and Sponsorship
The selection of Felix Gonzalez-Torres to represent the United States was the result of an open competition overseen by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions (FACIE) and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). A jury of museum curators and directors reviewed all submitted proposals and chose Gonzalez-Torres because of the continued significance of his work today.
The official U.S. representation at the 52nd Venice Biennale has been organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and is presented by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.
Major sponsorship is provided by:
Glenstone Foundation; The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation; HUGO BOSS; and The Trustees of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
With generous support from:
The Broad Art Foundation; The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
The U.S. Pavilion is also made possible by the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Leadership Committee:
Melva Bucksbaum and Raymond Learsy; Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro; Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol; Jo Carole Lauder; Nancy and Bob Magoon; and Cindy and Howard Rachofsky
Additional support is provided by:
Anonymous; Anonymous donation in honor of Nancy Spector; Christina and Robert Baker; The Stephanie and Peter Brant Foundation; Eli and Edythe Broad; The Calicchio Family Foundation; Amalia Dayan and Adam Lindemann; Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz; Ellyn and Saul Dennison; Frayda and Ronald Feldman; Glenn Fuhrman; Ingvild Goetz, Goetz Collection Munich; Marieluise Hessel and Edwin Artzt; Maurice Kanbar and Isabella del Frate Rayburn; Phyllis and William Mack; Harry and Linda Macklowe; Richard J. Massey Foundation for Arts and Science; Emily Rauh Pulitzer; Jacqueline and Mortimer Sackler; Catherine Shriro; Jennifer Blei Stockman; David Teiger; and Susy and Jack Wadsworth
In-Kind support courtesy of:
Clear Channel Jolly Pubblicità; Campolonghi Italia SPA; Michael Gabellini of Gabellini Sheppard Associates; and Malcolm Swenson of Swenson Stone Consultants
Special thanks to:
Stephen and Sandra Abramson; Douglas B. Andrews; Art for Arts Sake; Debbie and Glenn August; Giulia Ghirardi Borghese; Henry Buhl; Gabriel Catone and Andrew Ruth; Isabel and Agustin Coppel Collection; Michael M. Corman and Kevin Fink; Rex Cumming and Chris Gonzalez; Tiqui Atencio Demirdjian and Ago Demirdjian; Stefan Edlis and H. Gael Neeson; Blair and Cheryl Effron; Martin Fluhrer; Carol and Arthur Goldberg; Karen and Ken Heithoff; Anne and William J. Hokin; Oliver Kamm; Leo Katz; Dede and Peter Lawson-Johnston; Lyn and Norman Lear; Dominique Lévy and Dorothy Berwin; Donna and Cargill MacMillan; Gregory R. Miller; Barbara and Howard Morse; Edward Tyler Nahem; Colombe Nicholas and Leonard Rosenberg; Amy and John Phelan; Cecilia and Ernesto Poma; Bob Rennie and Carey Fouks, Vancouver, Canada; Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn; Lyn and George Ross; The Rachel and Lewis Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.; Pamela and Arthur Sanders; Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Saul; Ann and Mel Schaffer; Adam and Lenore Sender; Mr. James and Dr. Shirley Sherwood; Laura Skoler; Emily and Jerry Spiegel; Howard and Donna Stone; Barbara Goldfarb Tepperman and Fred Tepperman; and Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey R. Winter.
(List in formation as of 11 May 2007)
May 16, 2007
FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
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