In its sublime simplicity of form, “Untitled" strikes a delicate balance between the artist’s own, deeply personal narrative and themes of universal significance; despite their glow, each bulb will one day flicker out, only to be replaced by another in an act of interminable decay and regeneration. As they suffuse the viewer in a soft halo of light, the glowing bulbs resonate with meaning that is at once intimate and shared, specific and unknowable, permanent and fleeting, achieving Gonzalez-Torres’s ultimate gesture of implicating the perceiver in the construction of profound meaning. In his unexpected re-appropriation and activation of light bulbs and electric cord—objects frequently encountered and utilized in quotidian context—Gonzalez-Torres blurs the border between the familiar world of the everyday and the unknown, unplumbed depths of an altogether more poignant reality. Remarking upon this aspect of the artist’s practice, Nancy Spector describes, “it is also through vision that one can reinvent the universe, infusing the most mundane objects with an undeniable poetry. For Gonzalez-Torres, two glowing light bulbs transmute into a pair of inseparable lovers, a gauze curtain gently fluttering in the breeze incarnates the memory of a departed friend, and a heap of brightly wrapped candies becomes a sensorial body.” (Nancy Spector in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1995, p. x) The artist’s use of quotidian objects in “Untitled" evokes the readily available materials used by the Minimalist and Conceptual artists of the 1960s and 70s, exemplified in the sculptures of such artists as Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd, amongst others; unlike his predecessors, however, Gonzalez-Torres transforms these everyday objects, imbuing their sleek forms with emotive force. Far from the impersonal neutrality and cool permanence of Minimalism, the eventual decay of the glowing bulbs of “Untitled" resonates with the suggested transience and vulnerability of human life. This intimacy between viewer and object is further intensified by Gonzalez-Torres’s instruction that certain decisions about the arrangement and installation of each work are made at the discretion of the exhibitor. The artist describes his practice as inhabiting the space “between public and private, between personal and social, between the fear of loss and the joy of loving, of growing, of changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and then being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need public interaction. Without a public these works are nothing, nothing. I need the public to complete my work.” (Tim Rollins, Susan Cahan, and Jan Avgikos, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, New York 1993, p. 23)
Gonzalez-Torres’s light string works are inherently imbued with a potential both to illuminate and to obscure, their elegant forms simultaneously suggesting presence and absence; this liminality can be understood as an allusion to the universal human condition and, more intimately, as the artist’s representation of a personal, deeply felt loss. The artist began working with light bulb and extension cords in 1991, soon after the death of Gonzalez-Torres’s lover, Ross Laycock, in January of that year; the first light sculpture, featuring only two bulbs, suspended from independent, intertwined cords, is titled “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 in a discreet reference to the day of Ross’s birth. Describing the impetus behind that work, Gonzalez-Torres notes, “When I first made those two lightbulbs, I was in a total state of fear about losing my dialogue with Ross, of being just one.” (Exh. Cat., New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and travelling), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, March - May 1995, p. 183) The intimate union symbolized in “Untitled" is a fragile one as, over time, the glowing bulbs inevitably dim, flicker, and die out, echoing the inevitable and bittersweet reality of our own relationships. Yet just as in the artist’s iconic work “Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), in which viewers may choose to remove a piece of candy from a pile that can be continuously replenished, his instruction that the burned out bulbs be replaced in perpetuity allows for the suggestion of regeneration within inevitable dissolution. In its illuminating glow, “Untitled" reveals the remarkable delicacy of culturally mandated distinctions between the intimate and the communal, the seen and the felt, the known and the imagined. As a narrative of profound love and loss, the present work is a modern elegy of unrivaled eloquence; indeed, one scholar remarks that the shimmering light of “Untitled" invokes one of Gonzalez-Torres’s favorite poems, Wallace Stevens’s romantic elegy “The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour: “Light the first light of evening, as in a room / In which we rest and, for small reason, think / The world imagined is the ultimate good….Out of this light, out of the central mind, / We make a dwelling in the evening air, / In which being there together is enough.” (Wallace Stevens, “The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour,” cited in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1995, p. 183)
Simultaneously, by encouraging the viewer to acknowledge, even participate in the making of meaning for his artworks, Gonzalez-Torres inspires an equally personal and emotive response from the viewer. In its austere and striking beauty, “Untitled" contains an unspeakable multitude of meanings, epitomizing the powerful mediation upon endless unity, love, loss, and hope that can be understood as the central essence of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' extraordinary practice.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale