In 2007, when Felix Gonzalez-Torres was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale, the curator Nancy Spector wrote: “Exhibition-making was an integral part of his practice, […] but it was through the combination and juxtaposition of individual objects that their possible meanings are revealed […] and those meanings shift and realign depending on the context in which the work is seen. Gonzalez-Torres was keenly aware of the cultural specificities of any site and incorporated them into the presentation.” Thus, a crucial aspect of the works’ openness to interpretation is that they often take on new meanings stemming from a given context.
This exhibition at MACBA specifically responds to the context of Barcelona in 2020-2021. It makes a series of reflections on the work in response to this place and moment in time, and addresses the historical memory of the location, how it resonates today and how it is connected to the places that marked the artist’s life, the Caribbean and the Americas. Thus it engages with recent political as well as colonial history and with the work through post-colonial discourse and anti-fascist struggle. It also allows for an alternative framing of the work in relation to Latin American art history. Within this reading a number of sub-themes emerge, explored through the different thematic groupings and juxtapositions of works in the rooms/chapters and in the new version of the work Untitled (Portrait of Andrea Rosen), located in MACBA. These themes, which demonstrate the expansiveness of the work, encompass ideas such as authority, justice, memory and amnesia, social and political conservatism and anti-fascist struggle, the idea of the couple, doubles and pairings, equality, eternity, romance, enduring love, exile, travel, tourism, migration and refuge, freedom, fear, militarism and eroticism.
Likewise, the theme of the monument runs through the work and the exhibition; the history of rebellion and resistance movements, feminism and its resurgence in the present moment but also as a key influence on Gonzalez-Torres’ practice, in particular in his negotiation of the private and public, resistance to patriarchy and hegemony, and the broad rather than essentialist definition and deployment of identity. These ideas can thus be interpreted widely or in specific relation to Barcelona, yet the work remains open, multivalent and mutable in both theme and physical composition. These many interrelated themes are all already present as potentialities in the work but come to light in the current exhibition, seen anew through the positioning of the works here and now. For these reasons the notion of relation, derived from the Caribbean writer Édouard Glissant, became key to the exhibition. This talk will explore these ideas in regard to the work, as well as the issue of the rights and responsibilities of the curator in their own particular relation to the work, its historiography and its publics.