N: I am currently reading about the works of Felix Gonzalez-Torres who is an interesting artist given all the points you bring up about the readymade, consumerism, art, and design. In his works, Gonzalez-Torres uses consumer objects such as candies, lightbulbs or beads. I was initially going to suggest that these are readymades, yet it is important to note that when Duchamp introduced the readymade, he claimed that Richard Mutt (!) “…took an ordinary article of life, and placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view — created a new thought for that object.” Then, for an object to be a readymade, it has to be detached from its function. However, in Gonzalez-Torres’s works, the function of these consumer objects is critical. A lightbulb has to be recognized as a lightbulb and used as such. Similarly, candies have to be eaten by the visitors; otherwise, the work fails to be completed (noted as such by Gonzalez-Torres). He becomes an important figure to consider precisely because the consumer objects he uses cannot be defined as readymades. He brings both the form and the function of these consumer objects into art historical settings. In his work, form and function are kept intact. Most of the time, artists either choose to make works with the object-ness of the readymade or appropriate the given function.
With this approach to consumer objects in mind, the curation and ownership of Gonzalez-Torres’s work becomes really interesting. I recently learnt that in the Certificate of Authenticity Gonzalez-Torres provided to the buyers, he allowed the owners of his artworks to use different types of candies or beads if the stated ones were not available. One article mentioned how the language he used in these certificates allowed the owners to pick their own ideal heights for the paper stacks in some of his works. This flexibility brings the possibility of these stacks to be tall enough for visitors to not be able to reach to get a sheet and thus can potentially challenge the ideals Gonzalez-Torres set for his work. Another example to this greater flexibility in the curation of his work can be seen in Untitled (Public Opinion), 1991. For this piece, the curators were able to choose different types of candies in different installations, which resulted in various receptions. For example, while the people at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World related the piece to the “...process of interpretation that scholars of ancient culture apply to artifacts whose exact histories are unknown….at St. Philip’s Church, the largely African American congregation introduced an entirely new reading of the work, linking the black rod licorice candies to the use of licorice root as a balm by American slaves, and the subsequent proliferation of racist imagery in early-twentieth-century marketing campaigns for licorice candy.” Do you think that to be able to accommodate this amount of flexibility within a single work, we need to know this candy piece is a work by Gonzalez-Torres prior to seeing it?
I cannot help but connect this letter (Figure 7) of his to here as well. It is on all of my social media platforms! It is just so beautifully said. It talks about time and has two o-r-g clocks drawn — two things, which I know you like. Welcome back to NY! We missed you.