“Beauty is a power we should reinvest with our own purpose.” (F. Gonzalez-Torres, quoted in N. Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporanea, 1995-1996, p. 17)
Suspended from individual cords, the glow from the two unadorned light bulbs in Felix Gonzalez- Torres’ deeply impactful “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 is fused together to create a single iridescent mass. Executed in 1991, “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 is not only the artist’s first work to implement the use of lightbulbs, but it could be understood as one of his most personal. The work can be interpreted as a memorial to his late lover, Ross Laycock, who died from AIDS the year of the work’s creation. Ross’ presence is evoked in this work through the parenthetical portion of the title, March 5th, which was the date of his birth. Held in such prominent collections as Tate, London and the Art Institute of Chicago, the pair of lightbulbs speak not only of the powerful nature of human bonds and impermanence of life but also the chance for renewal. As the bulbs burn out, they are replaced allowing the work to continue to exist over time. The elegant ephemeral lyricism of Gonzalez-Torres’ reductive aesthetic combined with the expression of emotion produces a profoundly beautiful artwork which is not simply autobiographical but ultimately universal.
The art of Gonzalez-Torres contains many dualities. Muted yet immutable, heartening yet heartbreaking, political yet tender—his work is both beautiful and moving in its concomitant expression of permanence and change. The two solitary light bulbs in “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 together burn bright. Similarly, the duality that exists between the two light bulbs has a relationship to Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) wherein two clocks, ticking in unison, hang side by side. Indeed, these works can be understood as symbols of his relationship with Ross as well as heady metaphors for the joy of love underscored with the fear of loss. In regard to “Untitled” (March 5th) #2, the artist has stated, ‘When I first made those two light bulbs, 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). Invoking an incredible appreciation for life, “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 embraces its own dualities.
Transforming the everyday into profound meditations on love and loss and renewal, Gonzalez-Torres’ works—including his iconic light strings, candy spills and paper stacks—offer uncompromising beauty and simplicity. Whether executed as simple strings of lightbulbs or glimmering floor sculptures, his forms echo the practice of Minimalist sculpture imbued with an underlying current of poetic intimacy and political content. And yet, a quiet revolutionary, Gonzalez-Torres’ pieces remain open-ended, inviting viewers to participate in their realization. Whether by taking a sheet of paper, ingesting a piece of candy, or replacing a burnt out lightbulb, the artist stimulates the creativity of his audience. Establishing an interaction and interdependency between himself, the work and the viewer, the art of Gonzalez-Torres conveys intense poignancy through sheer simplicity—never forcing itself on the viewer, only inviting contemplation.