Felix Gonzalez-Torres (American, b. Cuba, 1957–1996)
Untitled (The End), 1990
22 x 28 x 22 in. (55.9 x 71.1 x 55.9 cm)
Restricted gift of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz; and Bernice and Kenneth Newberger Fund
Felix Gonzalez-Torres emerged in the late 1980s as one of several young artists who were engaged in invigorating a minimalist geometric vocabulary by infusing it with subject matter. Using photography, painting, and sculpture, Gonzalez-Torres created quietly evocative works that address social issues and explore the intersection between private and public experience.
Gonzalez-Torres, who died in 1996, was born in Guaimaro, Cuba, and was raised in Puerto Rico. He moved to New York in 1979. His art can be divided into several overlapping series, including works made of stacks of paper, wrapped candies, and strings of lights. His earliest works, dating from 1983, are photographs printed onto jigsaw puzzles. In 1986 he began a series of word portraits commemorating individuals, institutions, or historical events with texts describing significant moments in the subject’s history. He enlarged one of these works in 1989 to billboard size for a public project in New York, and subsequently produced billboards with texts or images in several cities. In his candy works, begun in 1990, Gonzalez-Torres created piles of wrapped candies that lie directly on the floor to be picked up and consumed by viewers. The following year he introduced a series of works composed of strings of ordinary light bulbs that can be installed in any manner—hung from the ceiling like festival lights or dimmed and lying on the floor, evoking a more somber mood.
Gonzalez-Torres began the “stacks” in 1988. Each stack, comprised of identical sheets of paper printed with a text or image, stands directly on the floor at an ideal height and resembling a minimalist cube. Paradoxically, what appears to be a sculpture is actually an edition of prints. Viewers are invited to take a sheet. As long as a stack is on view, the supply of sheets is replenished so that the stack never disappears. In this way viewers become participants in the work and collectors of Gonzalez-Torres’s art. The stacks confront the conventions of how an artwork functions by undermining the traditionally passive relationship that exists between the artwork and its audience. They also question public and private ownership and the originality and status of works of art. The candy works function in a similar manner—each comprised of a particular amount of candy, determined by weight, which, as the viewers consume the candy, is constantly replenished.
Untitled (The End) is one of Gonzalez-Torres’s earliest stacks. Each sheet is white with a black border. The blank central portion acts as a projection space, encouraging viewers mentally to add their imaginings, which are framed in black. Gonzalez-Torres considered his early stacks to be monuments, describing their ideal height as that of a tombstone. His work often focused on a theme of mortality, as the parenthetical title “The End” suggests. Untitled (The End) is complete only when the stack is eliminated. Until that point, it exists in a constant, vulnerable state of exhaustion and renewal, functioning as a metaphor for the body.