At first glance, the twin images in Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (A Couple), 1991 appear as simple photographs of cloud formations. Captured on film, Gonzalez-Torres presents a fleeting moment; drifting clouds creating a sublime scene. Upon closer inspection however, the work reveals its identity as a set of jigsaw puzzles. The elegant simplicity of the twin circles parallels "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers), from the same year, part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; a pair of pendant clocks ticking in unison until one inevitably starts to fail and falter. The title, "Untitled" (A Couple), situates this work in the same deeply poignant context.
Created in 1991, the year of his long-term partner's death from AIDS, the two pendant images of ethereal skies can be seen as a significant final double portrait. The coupling of twin skies installed side-by-side, their edges touching, evokes the joys and pleasures of pairing, and the startling anguish caused by the suggestion of separation. The puzzles could be considered the conceptual counterpoint to the artist's renowned paper stack and candy works, where the viewer is invited to remove pages from endless sheets of paper or take sweets from replenish-able supplies of candy. The inherent completeness of the puzzles underscores both their wholeness and also their vulnerability. Illustrated through the transient image of a celestial sky, which is amongst Gonzalez-Torres' most iconic images, the artist reflects upon the passage of time. Projecting this metaphor onto the fragmented puzzle in particular transmits human logic and emotion onto the natural environment. The artist took many photographs of the sky over his lifetime and these images feature prominently in his billboards, stacks and photography; examples are included in the collections of numerous major museums including the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and were featured in the artist's posthumous exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 2007.
The elegant lyricism of Gonzalez-Torres' reductive aesthetic combined with the expression of emotion produces a profoundly beautiful artwork which is only remotely autobiographical. Speaking of this narrative quality, curator Julie Ault eloquently concludes, 'can the beautiful be sad? Is beauty inseparable from the ephemeral and hence from mourning? Or else is the beautiful object the one that tirelessly returns following destructions and wars in order to bear witness that there is survival after death, that immortality is possible.' (J. Ault, (ed.), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, New York, 2006, p. 57). A master of symbolic gestures, Gonzalez-Torres understood that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.