Felix González-Torres was a Cuban gay visual artist often working with minimalism and audience participation for installations. Themes within his work include the passing of time, time’s effects on human relationships, and overall his lived experience as a gay man during the AIDS crisis. Living with AIDS at the time was seen as a guaranteed death, and Torres successfully captured the feeling of fleeting time and death in his work.
In his untitled candy portrait series, Torres displays a mound of candy pieces that is the weight of loved ones. Two of which are of his lover, Ross Laycock. The purpose is for museum goers to pass by and take candy, until the pile dwindles to nothing. This can be read as the slow, steady effects of AIDS perishing the body, and the absence of one’s body and memories over time. Additionally, the act of being able to enjoy the candy and throw it away is representative of the queer community during AIDS crisis. Being aware and ignoring the issue led to death; the audience has responsibility of this when taking the candy.
Torres had another piece inspired by his lover Ross. “Untitled (Perfect Lovers)” (1991) features two standard clocks next to each other, eventually ticking out of sync, with one’s batteries eventually dying first. This again is a reflection of death and the passage of time. The clocks are in sync at first and for a while, but malfunction (death) is inevitable.
As much as Felix González-Torres’ work can be seen as reminders of death, it may also be reminders of life. Ideas of regeneration and the cycle of life come into play when these pieces that “die” are given life again; the candy is replenished, the clocks are fixed, etc.
One of his most notable pieces was “Untitled” (1991), which were billboards installed across New York City. It featured a black and white photo of an empty bed, impressions of someone who lied in it still present. This was a visual representation of the loss of his partner. The choice to make public art makes the art world more accessible, by not limiting it by class and who can afford to see it. It was placed throughout places like Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ultimately reaching a diverse audience.It also brings to light the issues surrounding the image and prompt questions to the viewer. Its lack of text and color forces it to stand out among advertisements usually seen on billboards. Whose bed is this? Why is it here? Why is it empty? Its quiet, minimalist nature feels foreign in a bustling city. It is a screenshot of intimacy.
To conclude, Felix González-Torres work varies across mediums but remains simple, clean, and thoughtful. He documents time and the human relationship with life and death in his work. His pieces hold narratives that were culturally relevant at the time and even today. Discussing and documenting his experience as a gay man during the AIDS epidemic successfully through minimalistic measures rightfully has given him a place in the modern art world. González-Torres died in 1996 due to AIDS, but his memory lives on through clocks, candy, paper stacks, and more.