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The Rosa de la Cruz Collection

"Untitled" (America #3)

"Untitled" (America #3)
42 light bulbs, porcelain light sockets and electrical cord
overall dimensions vary with installation
length: 504 in. (1,280 cm.)
Executed in 1992.
Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1992
U. Moser, "Besser auf der Strabe," Kurier, 25 October 1992, p. 13 (illustrated).
A.R.T. Press, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Los Angeles, 1993, pp. 94-95 (illustrated).
J. Hofleitner, "Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Galerie Peter Pakesch," ARTFORUM, Vol. 31, No. 9, May 1993, p. 114 (illustrated).
U. Moser, "Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Republikanische Jahre," Kunstforum International, Bd. 121, 1993, pp. 441-442 (illustrated).
E. Troncy, "Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Placebo," Art Press, June 1993, pp. 32-35 (illustrated).
H. Christoph, "Die Geschichte der AUA," Profil, 29 November 1993, pp. 96-97, (illustrated).
C. Damian, "Living with Art. Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz," Artnews, May 1995, p. 88, (illustrated).
D. Elger, Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1997, pp. 109-110, 163, no. 210 (illustrated).
J. Ault, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Gottingen, 2016, pp. 335 and 409 (illustrated).
Vienna, Galerie Peter Pakesch, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Republikanische Jahre, October-November 1992.
University of Miami, The Lowe Art Museum, Latin American Art in Miami Collections, December 1994-February 1995, p. 18 and 35, pl. 22 (illustrated).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Santiago de Compostela, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea; Paris, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Berlin, Kunst-Werke, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, March 1995-October 1996, p 187 and 220 (illustrated, exhibited at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum only).
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Smithsonian Institution, Regarding Beauty: A View of the Late Twentieth Century, October 1999-January 2000, p 126, 180-181 and 199, cat. no. 26-A (illustrated).
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2009-November 2010.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2010-November 2011.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2011-October 2012.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2012-October 2013.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Selections from the de la Cruz Collection, December 2013-November 2014.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Beneath the Surface, December 2014-November 2015.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, You've Got to Know the Rules to Break Them, December 2015-November 2016.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Progressive Praxis, December 2016-November 2017.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Force and Form, December 2017-November 2018.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, More/Less, December 2018-November 2019.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, From Day to Day, December 2019-September 2020.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, A Possible Horizon, September 2020-November 2021.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, There is Always One Direction, December 2021-November 2022.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, Together at the Same Time, December 2022-November 2023.
Miami, de la Cruz Collection, House in Motion/New Perspectives, December 2023-March 2024.

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Julian Ehrlich
Julian Ehrlich Associate Vice President, Specialist, Head of Post-War to Present Sale

Lot Essay

In 1991, Felix Gonzalez-Torres suspended two lightbulbs from entwined electrical cords. He named the work “Untitled” (March 5th) #2; the purposely parenthetical portion of the title is likely in reference to the birthday of his partner, Ross Laycock, who had recently passed away from an AIDS-related illness. The paired lightbulbs, which will likely burn out at different intervals, capture the poignant realities of life and relationships. “When I first made those two light bulbs,” Gonzalez-Torres said, “I was in a total state of fear about losing my dialogue with Ross, of being just one” (F. Gonzalez-Torres, quoted in N. Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995, p. 183). Yet by making the work officially “Untitled” and formatting the rest of the title as a coded reference in parentheses, Gonzalez-Torres complicates this neat narrative.
“Untitled” (March 5th) #2 gave rise to Gonzalez-Torres’ series of lightbulb installations, which are known as “the light string works” and are clearly among the most iconic and affecting works of his oeuvre. Before decisions are made for each installation, the majority of these works purposefully appear to be identical; they are made from standard lightbulbs (most often 42) in standard porcelain light sockets, attached to a length of cord. Yet these light string works are startlingly profound and awe-inspiringly beautiful. Gonzalez Torres was deeply interested in questioning our perceptions of uniqueness as well as addressing the critical and integral role of ownership. The configuration of each of these sculptures is entirely up to its owner (or authorized exhibitor) each time the work is installed, always having the potential for change, and always in dialogue with its context – dangling, draping, cascading or hanging… While all of the light string works are “Untitled”, each also has a parenthetical portion of its title, further setting the works apart from one another but also binding them together, perhaps as a sort of abstract conceptual portrait. Some of the content in these parenthetical portions of the titles may obliquely refer to places or events in Gonzalez-Torres’s life, while some, like the present work, “Untitled” (America #3), are expansive, explicitly allowing a viewer room to cultivate their own associations and connotations. A guiding strategy within Gonzalez-Torres’ practice was collaboration: sometimes with the public, but always with the works’ owners. By setting up certain core parameters that are often open for interpretation and incorporate other individuals’ engagement, the artist encourages the work’s horizon to remain perpetually in the now.
When “Untitled” (America #3) is displayed, light bulbs cast a glow, together radiating a tangible warmth; the work was included in the artist’s seminal solo exhibition held, in 1995, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York. As with any light bulb, the bulbs used to install this work too have finite lives, though the rate at which they expire varies – and Gonzalez-Torres intended for bulbs to be immediately replaced when they burn out, also addressing a sense of immortality. By dint of their material, the light string works are unassuming, yet they establish an intense and palpable sense of presence and emotion.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s art purposefully drew from and subverted both Minimalism and post-Minimalism. Gonzalez-Torres’s use of commonplace materials like light bulbs and electrical cords has its roots in Minimalism, the 1960s art movement that championed industrial materials, such as concrete, aluminum, and plastic, and an almost literalist approach to the art object. Reacting to the emotion and excess associated with Abstract Expressionism, artists believed that an artwork should only reference itself. Donald Judd, one of Minimalism’s principal voices, explained in his 1964 treatise “Specific Objects”, “The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting”: “Materials,” wrote Judd, “vary greatly and are simply materials. They are specific. If they are used directly, they are more specific” (“Specific Objects”, 1964, republished by The Judd Foundation, online).
While Gonzalez-Torres often positioned his work in relation to art historical forebears, he simultaneously sought to upend the strict delineations of objectivity and subjectivity imposed by certain Minimalist artists, emphasizing the notion that the very acts of looking and creating meaning were related to our personal rights and responsibilities to have a point of view. “Forms gather meaning from the historical moment,” Gonzalez-Torres said in an interview with artist Tim Rollins. “Minimalist sculptures were never really primary structures, they were structures that were embedded with a multiplicity of meanings … Ask a few simple questions to define aesthetics: whose aesthetics? At what historical time? Under what circumstances? For what purposes? And who is deciding quality, etc? Then you realize suddenly and very quickly that aesthetic choices are politics” (F. Gonzalez-Torres, interview with Tim Rollins, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Art Resources Transfer, New York, 1993, p. 21) Gonzalez-Torres demonstrated an abiding commitment to questioning authority, codified power structures, and hegemonic knowledge systems – concerns which were, for the artist, inextricable from his engagement of histories of Minimalism.
Indeed, Gonzalez-Torres’ light strings are materially specific and rigorous, and they call to mind the light works by Dan Flavin, Judd’s contemporary. Flavin employed fluorescent tubes of often colored light whose geometric arrangements constructed richly ambient experiences. In the example of Gonzalez-Torres, the light strings do straddle the line between Minimalism and Conceptualism, but unlike their antecedents, works such as “Untitled” (America #3) are not intended to be hermetically sealed. Although sometimes read in light of the artist’s own death from an AIDS-related illness, these works privilege the viewer— and the viewer’s own subjective experience. This owes much to Gonzalez-Torres’ own background: He was a devoted student of Postmodernism, which challenged the legitimacy of a cultural authority and the supremacy of power structures. Gonzalez-Torres, who was born in Cuba (and thus in certain contexts seen as ‘other’ within the United States) and homosexual, sometimes used the margins to his favor, yet he refused to be left out of “the circles of power where social and cultural values are elaborated” (F. Gonzalez-Torres, interview, Not Quiet. Exh. Cat., Galerie Jennifer Flay, Paris: 1992, p. 27).
Far from dogmatic, the light strings works are emotive and open-ended, and the nature of Gonzalez-Torres’s practice explicitly encouraged and fostered malleability. In discussing how these works could be displayed, for example, he said, “Whatever you want to do, try it. This is not some Minimalist artwork that has to be exactly two inches to the left and six inches down. Play with it, please. Have fun. Give yourself that freedom. Put my creativity into question.” (quoted in op. cit., 1995, p. 191). Indeed, Gonzalez-Torres eschewed exacting strictures in part because they were not communal, a sense reinforced by “Untitled” (America #3) itself: The bulbs cast light over all.
That the light strings were utilitarian and useful objects was also appealing to the artist, and Gonzalez-Torres acknowledged that artificial light has also long symbolized modernity. The adoption of gas and electric lighting during the late-nineteenth century impacted the social world of the era, and thus the content of the art produced, particularly by artists working in Paris; they were living, after all, in ‘The City of Light.’ Artificial light illuminated that which could not previously have been seen and gave image to what otherwise might have remained hidden. Depictions of artificial lamplight in works by artists such as Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet call attention to the then-novel invention, and therefore linked “pictorial modernism to technological modernity” (H. Clayson, “Darkness and the Light of Lamps”, in Degas: Strange New Beauty, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018, p. 85).
Gonzalez-Torres was likely interested in these histories, but he was also drawn to the evocative nature of light. Indeed, Gonzalez-Torres often offered differing accounts of his inspirations and motivations, further enriching the work’s complexity. When discussing his series, the artist spoke of a photograph he took while traveling in Paris with Laycock in 1985. The image depicted a street fair and the crisscrossing strings of light that hung above: “It was so simple and so beautiful,” he reflected, “just the way we had it in Cuba. I looked up and immediately took a picture because it was a happy sight. I discovered that photo a little while ago and thought that maybe my light strings come from that, but not consciously” (quoted in ibid., p. 192). What is being revealed in works such as “Untitled” (America #3) – while perhaps a political reference or a sense of patriotism – is also possibly an intimate gesture, internal and personal.
For better or for worse, biography is the way so many artworks and their creators are interpreted. But throughout his brief, blazing career, Gonzalez-Torres purposefully and repeatedly reached beyond the reductive tendencies of biography and challenged viewers to do the same. In using quotidian materials and developing flexible parameters, he made objects that were relatable and comprehensible, and yet inspires questioning. For their viewers, they opened new worlds. “You look at art history, any artist, people are put into these boxes,” Andrea Rosen has said. “And the more famous the artist, the more people think they can be boiled down into a single line. And the fiber of Felix’s work is about how you can make a work that is not limiting the possibility of being constantly reinterpreted” (quoted in op. cit., 2017).

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