Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Art on This Day
Felix Gonzalez-Torres died on this day in 1996 due to AIDS.
He was born in Guáimaro, Cuba, in 1957, but grew up in Puerto Rico where he lived with relatives. He moved to New York City in 1979 with a study fellowship and earned a BFA in photography from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 1983.
Printed Matter, Inc. in New York hosted his first solo exhibition the following year. After obtaining an MFA from the International Center of Photography and New York University in 1987, he worked as an adjunct art instructor at New York University until 1989.
From 1987 to 1991, he was part of Group Material, a New York-based art collective whose members, amongst others Doug Ashford, Julie Ault, and Karen Ramspacher, worked collaboratively to initiate community education and cultural activism. His aesthetic project was, according to some scholars, related to Bertolt Brecht’s theory of epic theatre, in which creative expression transforms the spectator from an inert receiver to an active, reflective observer and motivates social action.
Gonzalez-Torres was known for his minimal installations and sculptures in which he used materials such as strings of light bulbs, clocks, stacks of paper, or packaged hard candies. Employing simple, everyday materials and a reduced aesthetic vocabulary reminiscent of both Minimalism and Conceptual art to address themes such as love and loss, sickness and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality, Gonzalez-Torres asked viewers to participate in establishing meaning in his works.
All of Gonzalez-Torres' works, with few exceptions, are entitled "Untitled" in quotation marks, sometimes followed by parenthetical title.
Of his nineteen candy pieces, only six, by their parenthetical titles and ideal weights, can be readily interpreted as portraits. Of these two are double portraits of the artist and his lover, Ross Laycock; two are portraits of Ross alone; one is a portrait of Felix’s deceased father; the last is a portrait of the artist’s close friend, French collector Marcel Brient.
The most pervasive reading of Gonzalez-Torres's work takes the processes his works undergo (light bulbs expiring, piles of candies dispersing, etc.) as metaphor for the process of dying; his work is sometimes considered a reflection of his experience with AIDS. However, many have seen the works also representing the continuation of life with the possibility of regeneration (replacing bulbs, replenishing stacks or candies).
Gonzalez-Torres's 1992 piece "Untitled" (Portrait of Marcel Brient) sold for $4.6 million at Phillips de Pury & Company in 2010, a record for the artist at auction.