Gonzalez-Torres on giving his art away
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled is a stack of mass-produced prints that viewers are encouraged to pick up and take with them. In fact, unlike most works in the museum’s collection, “Untitled” is not a single, precious art object. Rather, it’s made of master photographs, a certificate of authenticity, and permission to endlessly duplicate the image before you. Each time the work is to be shown, the master image is sent to a printer who replenishes the supply indefinitely. In 1995, the artist spoke at SFMOMA about this series.
Like Freud said, it was about fear. It was about learning to let go. And you know, you have a show and everyone’s walking out of the show with your work. And it’s kind of painful, but at the same time, it was a rehearsal for me— learning to let go.
And at that time, people wouldn’t touch these things. They just wouldn’t. I mean, we had signs on the walls that said, “Please take one.” Now I wish it was the same. Now people just fight for stuff, and they disappear really quickly. For the Guggenheim, we’re gonna have to devise things that says, “There was a stack, was here.” Because we cannot keep up with it. But also, in terms of history, you have to realize how this broke the narrative at that time. This is 1989. Everything you saw was on the walls in New York, and people were fighting for the walls. So I— I realized early on that the margins, that the marginal spaces were as important as the center.
One of the— one of the benefits of doing a stack is if— if I like someone else’s work, I usually cannot afford it— and neither can a lot of other people. So I just ask them to give an image to make a stack, so a lot of people can have it. I like taking that risk. It’s a total transgression of authorship.
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