Beyond the Wrapper | Felix Gonzalez-Torrez "Untitled" (L.A.)

Wednesday Nov 27th, 2019

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"Untitled" (L.A.) by Felix Gonzalez-Torrez is currently on display at the Erie Art Museum through August 2020

November 26 was the birthday of the late artist Felix Gonzalez-Torrez, whose work is currently on exhibit at the Erie Art Museum. Prominent American art critic Jerry Saltz made an Instagram post in memory of Felix. The post featured one of Felix's candy spills, the like of which is currently on exhibit at the Erie Art Museum. The piece, titled "Untitled" (L.A.), is on loan through August 2020.

It's easy to be wrapped up in how much the piece sold for at auction, which was much of the narrative after the museum unveiled the installation. But, there's a much larger statement behind the contemporary piece of art, which invites the viewer to become a part of the work's living history by taking and eating one of the individually wrapped green hard candies.

Crystal Bridges, the art institution that jointly owns the installation, had this to say about "Untitled" (L.A.). "The object is constantly in transition—shrinking as the audience removes candy and growing again as the spills are replenished by the owner. Here, the artist insists that the beauty of a work of art is not only contained in an enduring, physical art object, but in the moment of experience, of human interaction."

Los Angeles is the city where Felix lived with his longtime partner, Ross Laycock. 1991, the year the piece was created, was also the year that Laycock died of complications from AIDS. As viewers interact with the installation and walk away with a piece of candy, the work gradually dwindles in size. This metamorphosis was extremely personal to Felix, as his partner's body gradually withered away as a result of his terminal illness.

In response to Jerry Saltz's post, Chris Minard, an artist himself, left this touching comment. "Every time I come across one of these installations, I eat a single piece. It’s one of the most personal, intentional experiences I’ve ever had with a work of art. For me, a gay man, saving them is like ashes on a mantel, whereas eating them is taking communion with my forefathers but with raised stakes; that Gonzales-Torres, who knew and saw so much sadness in his loss would find a way to commemorate that pain with something so innocent, kind, and gentle. And that this expression is overwhelmingly vulnerable to the selfish or uninformed whim of any passerby but embraces whomever stops to find out if they can take and eat from it only to learn that doing so is to actively participate in commemorating his lover’s death ***with him in a brief moment of physical pleasure*** is staggeringly courageous. It’s the act of tasting a lover’s compassion, right now, in your own body. It’s beautiful. And so, so loud."

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