Tuesday, January 11, 2011


A common sight in contemporary art museums is people carrying rolled-up posters. Most often these are art works by the Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. One of his works is a pile of posters (Untitled 1992-93) that, usually by osmosis, visitors come to understand that they can not only touch but take home. These unlimited edition prints include images of birds, missing people, abstract shapes and clippings from newspapers. Torres also made works from piles of wrapped candies (the weight of the candies often determined by the weight of people important in his life) that can be picked up and consumed by visitors.

The artist told American curator and academic Robert Storr (judge of the Walters' Prize in 2004) that the impetus behind his work was, “trying to deal with a solution that would satisfy what I thought was a true public sculpture, and that is when I came up with the idea of a stack.” As you look at the diminishing stack of prints as museum visitors roll them up to take home, you sense both a buzz of excitement at a gift and calculations as to that gift's personal importance. One mother: ‘you realize that if you take that poster you are going to have to carry it home by yourself’?

Torres created these constantly diminishing piles for his lover who was dying of aids. In the same Storr interview he said, “When people ask me, "Who is your public?" I say honestly, without skipping a beat, ‘Ross’. The public was Ross. The rest of the people just come to the work.” 

As we left the museum we saw Torres’ prints being carried onto buses, down into the subway and into the backseats of cars. Occasionally there was one scrunched up and pushed into a trashcan; the small effort and responsibility had proved too much.

Previous OTN post on Felix Gonzalez Torres here