30 November 2012

“Untitled” (Portrait of the Cincinnati Art Museum), 1994, Felix Gonzalez-Torres

As originally installed in the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA

As exhibited in November 2000 at The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, UK.

Currently:  Front Lobby, Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Installed:  Tuesday, 14 March – Friday, 17 March 1994 in the Barnhorn / Alice and Harris Weston Gallery (303) of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Represented by:  Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York, New York, USA


Elger, Dietmar.  Catalogue Raisonné.  Ostfildern bei Stuttgart, Germany:  Cantz, 1997.  131.
Gonzalez-Torres, Felix and Robert Storr.  “Interview mit Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Teil II – 13. December 1994.”  In Felix Gonzalez-Torres.  Ed.  Roni Horn.  Munich, Germany:  Sammlung Goetz, 1995.  24.
Kwon, Miwon.  “The Becoming of a Work of Art:  FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce.”  In Felix Gonzalez-Torres.  Ed.  Julie Ault.  Göttingen, Germany:  Steidl, 2006.  314.
Robinson, Deborah.  “in memoriam.”  In in memoriam:  22 November 2000 – 21 January 2001.  Walsall, UK:  The New Art Gallery Walsall, 2000.  13.
Spector, Nancy.  “Travel as Metaphor.”  In Felix Gonzalez-Torres.  Ed.  Julie Ault.  Göttingen, Germany:  Steidl, 2006.  267.


in memoriam.  The New Art Gallery Walsall, Walsall, UK.  22 November 2000 – 21 January 2001.

From the Certificate of Authenticity/Ownership:

A portrait consisting of words and numbers (events and their dates)… Ideal installation:  this text is to be painted directly on a wall(s) just below the point where the wall meets the ceiling, in metallic silver paint on a background color to the owner’s liking, in Trump Medieval Bold Italic typeface.  If necessary, the size of the text may be altered to fit the available wall space each time this work is re-installed.

The current installation of the work in the front lobby has the list of events and dates arranged in two rows of text that completely circle the lobby in a band just below the ceiling and just above a decorative molding near the top of the walls.

Although the certificate of ownership stipulates that dates can be added and removed as the museum sees fit, the current installation matches the original list faxed by the artist to the museum during the commissioning process.  That list is as follows:

Though this list presents the possibility of a “correct order” in which the dates should be read, the installation forms a continuous circle with no clear beginning point and no clear end.  As the dates are not in chronological order (or, indeed, any apparent order), the assumption is that the viewer may begin reading at any point.

Biographical Sketch

            Felix Gonzalez-Torres was born 26 November 1957 in Güaimaro, Cuba but moved to Puerto Rico at age 13.  He studied art at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, where he won a fellowship to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York in 1979.  After receiving a B.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in 1983, he attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.  It was also this year that the artist met Ross Laycock, who would become his partner and an influential figure in his work.  Gonzalez-Torres began collaborating with a collective of artists called Group Material in 1987, the same year he received his M.F.A. from the International Center for Photography at New York University.  Receiving fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1989 and 1993, his work appeared in several high-profile exhibitions during his brief career, including those at Andrea Rosen Gallery in 1990 (which continues to represent his work), the Whitney Biennial (1991), the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1992), and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1994).  Ross Laycock died of AIDS in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1991, a tragedy that would fuel much of Gonzalez-Torres’ work after this period.  In 1995, a retrospective of his ouvre was mounted at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.  On 9 January 1996, Felix Gonzalez-Torres died of AIDS in Miami, Florida.


            “Untitled” (Portrait of the Cincinnati Art Museum), commissioned in 1995 by the museum upon the recommendation of then-curator Jean Feinberg, is typical of the artist’s other word portrait or dateline pieces, and yet remains a singular work of conceptual art.  Like the others, this work consists of a series of dates and events arranged in no apparent order; however, this list is unique to the museum and to the artist.  Born of a collaborative process between the two, the list combines suggestions specifically made by and related to the museum with dates chosen by the artist.  The result is a mixture of events that places the history of the Cincinnati Art Museum within a larger cultural milieu.  Also intersected here is the life of Gonzalez-Torres, as well as the lives of museum-goers as they read the events and recognize those of significance to them personally.  What appears as a simple list of words and numbers is truly a complex conceptual piece that subtly interacts with the museum visitor.
            The current physical presentation of the list is largely arbitrary; the paint on the walls of the museum is not the “art” of the work.  In fact, the artist was not present during the installation of the piece and only made provision for an “ideal situation” as to how the work should be installed in his contract with the museum.  A commercial sign company, Brushworks, was commissioned by the museum to install the piece originally in one of the contemporary galleries.  As text, the list of events could be endlessly reproduced in any setting, thus negating the idea of the piece as unique, valuable art object.  As stated in the Certificate of Ownership/Authenticity accompanying the work in the museum’s curatorial files, it may be exhibited off-site while simultaneously installed in its “authentic” museum setting.  “Untitled” (Portrait of the Cincinnati Art Museum) was exhibited as such in November 2000 by The New Art Gallery Walsall in Walsall, England.  Here, the list of dates was reproduced using vinyl lettering on a wall in the gallery, ranged in a single register of text.  This second concurrent copy of the text did nothing to diminish the uniqueness of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s “original.”  The ownership of the concept, transferred from the artist to the institution, constitutes the “original work.”
            In effect, though, we are all owners of this piece.  While we read through the list of dates, certainly many will have little or no meaning for us; however, most can identify with some of the pop culture references or political references which serve to stitch us collectively as a culture into the work.  Our individual memories and collective history become necessary operational devices in the functioning of the word portrait.  It does not come to life until it is read and filtered through a viewer’s rational processes.  Therefore, although we are confronted with the physical presence of the arrangement of letters and numbers painted on a wall, they are arbitrary in and of themselves.  It is not until they are decoded and recognized as significant in some way by an individual that the art truly exists.  The list is not simply a portrait of the museum, as the parenthetical title denotes, but a portrait of everyone who takes the time to read through its dates and events.  As long as museum-goers continue to do so, it will remain an engaging and significant piece in the collection of the Cincinnati Art Museum.


This is the artist’s signature as it appears on the Certificate of Authenticity/Ownership. 
His signature does not actually appear with the installation itself.

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.