United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (America), 1994. 15 watt lightbulbs, waterproof extension cords, waterproof rubber light sockets, overall dimensions vary with installation, 12 parts: 20 m in length, with 7.5 m of extra cord each. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchase with Funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee. Installation view of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Girlfriend in a Coma) at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, 1996. Photo: Marc Domage / Tutti. © The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

June 5, 2007

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America

52nd International Art Exhibition,
La Biennale di Venezia
Open to the public: June 10th – November 21st 2007

Venice, Giardini Biennale – Arsenale
Opening hours: 10 am – 6 pm
Giardini closed on Mondays (except Monday June 11th 2007)
Arsenale closed on Tuesdays (except Tuesday June 12th 2007)
Tel: 39 041 521 8711
Web: www.labiennale.org

Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) will represent the United States at the 2007 Venice Biennale.

A Cuban-born, American citizen, Gonzalez-Torres is best known for his immensely generous yet rigorously conceptual art in the form of endlessly replenishable paper stacks, take-away candy spills, light strings, beaded curtains, and public billboards. With its minimalist refinement and quiet referentiality, his work treads a fine line between social commentary and personal disclosure, equivocating between the two realms and obscuring the culturally-determined distinctions that separate them. Shifting from cultural activism to intimate, autobiographical dimensionsand subsequently eroding the boundaries betweenGonzalez-Torres used the aesthetic allure of his art to stage a subtle critique of social injustice and intolerance. By creating open-ended, participatory artworks, he entrusted his viewers to engage with and ultimately activate their meaning.

Only the second artist to posthumously represent the United States in the modern history of the Venice Biennale (Robert Smithson was chosen in 1982), Gonzalez-Torres had been previously nominated for the 45th Venice Biennale in 1995, and this exhibition expands upon and rearticulates his original proposal for the U.S. Pavilion. Nancy Spector, Chief Curator of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, who organized Gonzalez-Torress retrospective there in 1995, is the U.S. Commissioner for the 52nd Biennale.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America brings together key examples of the artists work in and around the U.S. Pavilion to create a coherent installation focused on Gonzalez-Torress optimistic but critical relationship to his adoptive culture. Though all untitled, the parenthetical subtitles of his individual works function like whispered cues providing subtle guides to interpretation that only imply and never prescribe. Gonzalez-Torress largest and final light-bulb string (comprising twelve illuminated strands), Untitled (America), 1994, graces the entrance hall of the pavilion and extends into its public courtyard. In one of the rooms flanking the rotunda appear two paper stacks: Untitled (Republican Years), 1992, with its funereal border and Untitled, 1991, a photograph of an ocean surface cast in the blackest of light. In the gallery on the other side of the rotunda hangs Untitled (Natural History), 1990, a suite of twelve black-and-white, framed photographs that documents the inventory of idealized (male) attributes inscribed in tribute to Theodore Roosevelt on the exterior façade of the American Museum of Natural History in New York: author, statesman, scholar, humanitarian, historian, patriot, ranchman, conservationist, explorer, naturalist, scientist, and soldier. These images surround two paper stacks from 1989 that bear the inscriptions Memorial Day Weekend and Veterans Day Sale, respectivelywry commentaries on how national(istic) holidays in the United States are commercialized and rendered utterly banal. Initially exhibited together as one work called Untitled (Monument), they represent Gonzalez-Torress interest in inventing a new kind of public art, one that would remain mutable and open to interpretation. With his take-away paper stacks, the artist attempted to create a type of memorial that was anything but monumental, one that would surrender itself to the desires of its audience, one that would only intimate meaning, one that could, in time, vanish.

In the gallery to the far left of the entrance rests Untitled (Public Opinion), 1991, a large carpet of black licorice candies that intimates the complexities of public consensus even as it offers itself to gallery visitors, endlessly distributing itself into the world at large. This work is accompanied by a selection of Gonzalez-Torress early Photostats–blank, captioned screens that cite political and social events in eccentric inventories of our collective consciousness. In the gallery to the far right of the entrance, an indoor billboard of a lone bird soaring through an open sky covers the long wall as a portal to imaginary states. Its only illumination is the single string of light bulbs, Untitled (Leaves of Grass), 1993, which, in this context, references Walt Whitmans ode to the individual spirit and its essential place in American democracy.

Because Gonzalez-Torres conceived of his art as viral in nature, existing both within the museum and dispersed throughout the community by means of its take-away components, the exhibition also includes a series of twelve outdoor billboards of the same image of a bird in flight, installed throughout the city of Venice. Presented without identifying text, these billboard images exist as lyrical spaces for contemplation amid the bustle of urban life.

The exhibition also features Untitled, 1992-95, a never-before-realized sculpture in the courtyard of the pavilion: two adjoining, circular reflecting pools, the sides of which touch just enough at a single point to share an almost undetectable flow of water. Between 1992 and 1995 Gonzalez-Torres sketched at least five variations of these pools, expanding upon his motif of paired rings. The first known sketch for the twin pools represents Gonzalez-Torress submission to an outdoor sculpture competition sponsored by Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington in 1992. The drawing indicates that each pool should be twelve-feet in diameter, a detail that would remain constant in each subsequent drawing and description. Gonzalez-Torres returned to the motif in 1994 when planning a one-person exhibition for the capc Musée d’Art Contemporain in Bordeaux, which he postponed because of its proximity in time to his Guggenheim retrospective. Tragically, he died before the show could be realized. For the Bordeaux installation, he envisioned a pair of indoor pools flush with the floor. When outlining his ideas for the exhibition, Gonzalez-Torres also created a sketch of an outdoor version of the pools, and this is the one realized on the occasion of the Venice Biennale. Untitled and open-ended in terms of their possible materials, the pools presented here were carved from white Carrara marble.

The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an introductory essay by Nancy Spector and a conversation among Amada Cruz, Ann Goldstein, and Susanne Ghez, who collaboratively proposed Gonzalez-Torres for the Venice Biennale in 1995.

United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
June 5, 2007

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