Artist and Musician Biographies


The Art Bros speak in personal and direct ways about Felix Gonzales-Torres's works called "Candy Spills." Check it out!

Felix Gonzales-Torres was born in Guaimaro, Cuba in 1957, the third of four children in his family. When he was seven years old his father bought him his first set of watercolors, which fueled his ambition to become an artist. In 1971, at the age of 14, he and his sister, Gloria, were sent first to Spain and then to Puerto Rico to live with an uncle. In 1981, his parents and the rest of the family escaped from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift.

In 1979, Gonzalez-Torres moved to New York City, where he began his studies in art at the Pratt Institute, receiving his B.F.A. in 1983. While at Pratt, he also participated in the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum. In 1987 he received his M.F.A. from the International Center for Photography and New York University.

In 1984, he had his first solo exhibition in New York. His first major museum exhibit was at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in 1988. After that he had one-man exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum in 1989, the Museum of Modern Art in 1992, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., both in 1994, and the Guggenheim Museum in 1995. He was also in many group shows including Biennal Exhibition at the Whitney Museum in 1991 and 45th Venice Biennale in 1993.

Gonzalez-Torres lost many people that he loved in a very short time. His mother died from leukemia in 1986. In 1991 his partner Ross died of AIDS and only three weeks later he lost his father. These deaths had a significant impact on his work and in a very subtle way he began to deal with his own mortality as well as a profound sense of loss.

His work is simple in construction but rich in emotional context. In his art, Gonzalez-Torres comments on the contemporary social conditions of the world that he lived in. His style is conceptual and minimal at the same time, but it is also very personal. In many of his works the viewer is allowed to take a piece of the work away with them. Many of these works consist of sheets of paper stacked neatly, or piles of candy spread out in a corner. The viewer is allowed to take a piece of candy or a sheet of paper, so that they take a piece of art with them.

This potential for metamorphosis was what Gonzalez-Torres wanted. But with the metamorphosis comes a new and challenging responsibility — once you have taken a part of the work, you have also taken responsibility for that part. Do you keep it? If so, how? Do you put it on display, do you frame it, and can you discard it when you tire of it? Do you eat it if it is candy? Then does it become part of you? And what does this all mean to you? You see, the artist has set up a very different experience for you than simply going into a museum, looking at paintings for a while and then going home. If you took a piece of his art, it inevitably became part of your life, and in a sense you shouldered part of the responsibility for that art.

Gonzalez-Torres focuses on simplicity in his artwork. He did not work in a studio; he worked in his own apartment, in New York. His directness is a key to its success and he wanted the involvement of the viewer. In his work he dealt with many of life's issues and some were influenced by his gay identity. Many of the people that he knew had AIDS and many of them died from it. His candy pieces would often be the ideal weight of a particular significant person in his life. At the end of the day the museum in which the art was displayed would replenish the candy so that it kept that weight. As simple as it is the the meaning is tragic: Ideal weight is important to people with AIDS, because when you begin to lose weight, you begin to die.

Towards the end of his life many of the artist's works had electric lights in them, the theme of loss and renewal was captured by the fact that the lights had to be replaced when they burnt out. The lights would hang from the ceiling, be draped on the wall, or they could be piled on the floor. The lights could also be viewed either on or off.

In some respects, Gonzalez-Torres' work is more like poetry than painting or sculpture. Very much like a poet, he does not reinvent language with each work, but rather utilizes available materials as if they were words, recombining his images and forms to create very personal works related to love and loss.

Gonzalez-Torres showed each year from 1990 at the Andrea Rosin Gallery in New York, until his death from AIDS in 1996, in Miami.

Page author: S.H. & C.F.