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Galleries are airbrushing HIV/AIDS out of Felix Gonzalez-Torres's work


At Artslant, Darren Jones offers an impassioned critique of a number of galleries that have recently omitted or downplayed the subject of HIV/AIDS when showing the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Among these galleries is David Zwirner Gallery, which co-represents the artist’s estate with Andrea Rosen Gallery, and which insists that the artist’s work should be left open to interpretation instead of being tied to any specific subject matter or historical period. But Jones argues that when it comes to Gonzalez-Torres’s work, this view is irresponsible and misunderstands the role of curating. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The consensus of fondness that has formed toward the humanity in Gonzales-Torres’ work means that the subtleties and complexities of his conceptual strategies to defy specificity and keep the personal in check—focusing on equally or more important facets to him and his handlers—have been overwhelmed by the weight of history, hindsight upon that moment of unutterable loss, and affection for his poetic brilliance. Romanticism overpowers Minimalism here. So that to continue insisting on that openness above all else, is a disservice to his legacy. Even his wishes for the work are of secondary importance to the affecting power of his presence. Is that not the ultimate success of art: to connect so broadly beyond even the parameters set by the artist?

It is therefore torrid artifice and duplicity on the part of the stewards of his legacy to hide behind what the artist preferred twenty years ago, when it was from that intimacy that his art derived a relevance and vitality that still burns so fiercely today, particularly for the constituencies—both older and younger generations—traditionally appreciative of and implicated in those areas of his work; artists living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ communities of color, and the Queer/Art communities generally. For these stakeholders, the party line espoused by more powerful custodians of his legacy can feel like violent erasure.

To be clear, Gonzalez-Torres’ work is often discussed in academic and artistic spaces in the context of HIV/AIDS, recently in Art AIDS America (2016) at the Bronx Museum, and in the aforementioned Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture (2010–11). But responsibility for those central issues ought not to be relegated and devolved outwards, piecemeal and fragmented, to group exhibitions at other galleries, however eloquently it is done, while the most comprehensive, international solo exhibitions of his work organized by the guardians in charge of his legacy shirk their responsibilities. Should they not be front and center, leading discourse and research on all aspects of his work and biography?

Image: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (A Portrait), 1991/1995. Photo:Darren Jones. Via Artslant.