• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 9526


    16 November 2000, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 24

    Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996)

    "Untitled" (Blood)

    Price Realised  


    Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996)
    "Untitled" (Blood)
    plastic beads, metal rod
    dimensions vary with installation
    Executed in 1992. This work is unique and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and ownership signed by the artist. The Estate of Felix Gonzalez-Torres has offered to issue a new certificate of authenticity and ownership in the name of the new owner.

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    Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (Blood) is one of the most radiantly beautiful and deeply moving works in Contemporary American art. A curtain of red and clear beads, the piece--gleaming with light and drenched with a seductive yet palpable red--evokes fundamental metaphors of human existence, ranging from the hope of luminosity, to both blood as a life line as well as our fear of blood's relationship to morbidity.

    Gonzalez-Torres wanted the viewer not only to look at the present piece, but also to walk through it and touch it. Physical contact with artworks is normally prohibited; everyone is conscious of this rule: it is a barrier between the permissible and the impermissible. Gonzalez-Torres liked to disrupt such barriers. With his candy pieces and paper stack pieces, he invited the viewers to take something away from his works on display, an absolute contradiction of normal practice. Moreover, one always crosses boundaries with a heightened sense of awareness; this is true when one steps on a Carl Andre floor-piece and it is true when one walks through "Untitled" (Blood). As well as this walking through stimulating a sense of euphoria and physical joy, this experience simultaneously raises notions of contagion and sacrifice, extending the range of embedded meaning in this work to both religion and illness. However Gonzalez-Torres' work is not just about metaphor--not just a representation of the idea of the body--it is about a real physical experience, a real relationship to the body, our body as we move through the piece and all the meaning that it imbues.

    Gonzalez-Torres remembered seeing the results of his lover Ross Laycock's disappointing HIV blood-tests, "I said to him, 'Honey, this is your blood. Right here. This is it.' . . And it was even more frightening because all the numbers could be easily reversed. It is a total abstraction; but it is the body. It is your life" (quoted in N. Spector, op.cit., p. 167).

    Ross Laycock died in 1991 after a prolonged AIDS related illness. In this same year Gonzalez-Torres' father died as well. Like much of his work from this period, "Untitled" (Blood) is an elegiac memorial to love and loss. The piece is profoundly intimate, and yet monumental. Gonzalez-Torres' prevailing magic was his generous ability to sustain absolute hope while at the same time truly acknowledging fear and death.

    It is important to note that Gonzalez-Torres was very particular about the format of his titles. Almost exclusively, all works are "Untitled", in quotation marks. It was only outside the closed quotation that he ventured to instill a personal interjection--always in parenthesis. It was essential to him that all works were open for changing interpretation, for Gonzalez-Torres saw the possibility of change as the only form of permanency or immortality. Many of Gonzalez-Torres works, as is the case with "Untitled" (Blood), change with each installation. Perhaps without seeing the title, an individual experiencing this work would not even think of blood. It is essential to embrace the breath of content within this work--the nature of place and ownership, issues of permanency, the transcendence of light--but one can also not help but be affected by Gonzalez-Torres' parenthetical insertion. Blood becomes a rich and diverse source of reference.

    Gonzalez-Torres thought of "blood-memories" and of "blood-remembering" as the fundamental essence of creativity. The artist linked this idea with a passage from Rainer Maria Rilke's novel, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge:

    "One must have memories of many nights of love . . . one must also have been beside the dying, must have sat beside the dead with the open window. . And still it is not yet enough to have memories. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not till they have turned to blood within us . . . nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves--not till then can it happen that in the most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them" (quoted in N. Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995, p. 42).

    It is also striking that, according to classical mythology, the two paragons of male beauty, Adonis and Hyacinthus, bled to death. Hyacinthus, of course, was Apollo's lover; and in order to commemorate him Apollo made Hyacinthus' blood give life to beauty (in the form of the eponymous flower) and eulogized him in art. Ovid recounts:

    "You are slipping away from me, Hyacinthus, robbed of the flower of your youth," said Apollo . . . "I wish that I might give my life in exchange for yours, as you so well deserve, or die along with you! But, since I am bound by the laws of fate, that cannot be. Still you will always be with me, never forgotten. When I strike the chords of my lyre, and when I sing, my songs and music will tell of you" (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book X).

    Upon reading this passage, one cannot help but think of Felix reconciling his own being alive with Ross's death. Gonzalez-Torres considered Ross to be his ideal audience--the person he addressed when making work--even after Ross's death. But this was not only about the power that comes from a dialogue born out of true love. Gonzalez-Torres believed that that dialogue, that trust, that level of shared responsibility, was also the measure of how best to address the audience at large.

    ""Untitled" (Blood) is a poignant example of how Felix Gonzalez-Torres' work, although the product of an unique and irreplaceable creative mind, achieves universal significance through its deeply personal content. This is true of my own encounter with the piece.
    My first vision of one of the five beaded curtains produced by Felix Gonzalez-Torres between 1991 and 1995 was an incongruous encounter with "Untitled" (Chemo) installed by Jennifer Flay in her 1992 exhibition Not Quiet.

    Hanging between the main gallery and Jennifer Flay's office, the work was an inevitable passage for those who wished to speak with the gallerist or her staff. Although post-modern critical commentary does not dwell on the notion of formal innovation, it is true that, despite twenty-five years of involvement in the visual arts, I had never seen anything similar in the gallery context. The curtain evoked images of fly screens in tropical environments or perhaps the entrance to a dubious nightspot, but the shimmering of the beads reflecting the ambiant light, the rustling sound when one passed through it and the caress of hundreds of tiny plastic beads was a sensual and tactile experience far removed from this vague visual parallel.

    A few weeks later I returned to the gallery. Jennifer owned "Untitled" (Chemo) at that point and would not consider selling it. However she and Felix had a rich ongoing dialogue. They had recently discussed a second beaded curtain. My own blood rushed through my body, and in that instant I felt with greater clarity than ever before the essence of being, the reality of the incredible lifeforce that flows within us. Life. Renewal. In that moment, my own deeply personal relationship with the piece began." --Marcel Brient, Paris 2000


    Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
    Galerie Jennifer Flay, Paris

    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Collection of Mr. Marcel Brient, Paris


    T. Rollins, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Los Angeles 1993, p. 83 (illustrated)
    E. Troncy, "Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Placebo", Art Press, June 1993, p. 35 (illustrated)
    S. Watney, "In Purgatory: The Work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres", Parkett, No. 39/1994, p. 43 (illustrated)
    N. Princenthal, "Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Multiple Choice", Art & Text, May 1994, pp. 42 and 44 (illustrated)
    H. Burchard, "Conceptual Con Artist", The Washington Post, June 24, 1994, section G, p. 5 (illustrated)
    L. Relyea, "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Frieze, September/October 1994, p. 49 (illustrated)
    N. Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 1995, pp. 172-173 (illustrated)
    R. Storr, "Setting Traps for the Mind and Heart", Art in America, January 1996, (illustrated on the cover and on p. 3)
    G. Meir, "Felix Gonzalez-Torres 1957-1996", Studio, April/May 1996, p. 32 (illustrated)
    N.N., "Artiste Gay, Mort du Sida en Janvier Dernier", Idol, June 1996
    "Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Album)", Blocnotes, September/October 1996, p. 80 (illustrated)
    D. Elger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres Catalogue Raisonné, New York 1997, p. 112, no. 217 (illustrated)


    Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Washington, D. C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; and Chicago, Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, April-November 1994
    New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, March-May 1995, pp. 172-173 (illustrated)
    Paris, Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Passions privees, December 1995-March 1996, p. 660 (illustrated)
    Paris, Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Girlfriend in a Coma), April-June 1996