Feliz Gonzalez Torres
During my last Art History lecture of the semester we looked at a series of contemporary artists. When I saw a photograph of an empty bed with white sheets, my heart just dropped. How could I have forgotten Felix Gonzalez Torres (1957-1996)?
Well known for his public, and interactive work, he might be the only artist form the 20th Century who has made art about love (and more importantly, the loss of love) that does not turn out to be sappy.
Some of his work is intended to disappear, to fade, but they can always be recreated and replenished. Take for example the Stacks series, piles of printed paper stacked in gallery and museum floors, to be taken by visitors. A gesture that invites spectator participation.
In Untitled (1991), the large piece of paper has the image is of a black and white photograph of a dark ocean surface cast with shiny light from the moon. It is impossible to carry the paper with you without either folding or somehow damaging it. However, once you get home, if the paper even made it that far away from the museum, you might enjoy the physical traces of its journey on your wall, even though you know there will be endless multiples of the same printed paper in other people’s homes.
He created a series of billboards all over New York with a photograph of an empty bed bearing the imprint of two bodies -a married couple, or simply lovers. The viewer was left with the curiosity about who these two imprints belonged to, and perhaps imagine their relationship together. What remains embedded in my imagination is always the question, why is the bed empty? How does the image of an empty bed connote such melancholia?
Untitled (Perfect Lovers), from 1991, has two synchronized generic clocks (touching each other) marking time. When installed, those two clocks are set at the same time, and with the passing of days, months, and years, the clocks’ time begins to grow farther from each other.
The clocks sometimes are shown with a written letter to the artist’s lover, Ross, in 1988: “Don’t be afraid of the clocks, they are our times, time has been so generous to us. We imprinted time with the sweet taste of victory. We conquered fate by meeting at a certain time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: time. We are synchronized, now and forever. I love you.”
The clocks become a bitter sweet metaphor for lovers. At first, it marks the time where everything between the two lovers is in sync, and at the same time, it is the reminder that the moment of absolute bliss with time fades, and the two lovers move farther and farther apart. However, the two clocks are always standing side by side, even if after decades they become hours apart. Sometimes however, batteries run out, and it is possible to once again set the two clocks at the same time.
See some of Felix Gonzalez Torres’s work at