William Bartman

You Have to Pay for Everything: Felix Gonzalez-Torres III

"TR: It’s obvious that you aren’t as interested in the battle between form and content as you are in method: how the work is made, distributed, and shared. Where did the stack-pieces come from?

FGT: It’s really difficult to say. I don’t really remember, seriously. The first stacks I made were some of the date-pieces. Around 1989 everyone was fighting for wall space. So the floor space was free, the floor space was marginal. I was also interested in giving back to the viewer, to the public, something that was never really mine to start with—this explosion of information, which in reality is an implosion of meaning. Secondly, when I got into making stacks—which was the show with Andrea [Rosen]—I wanted to do a show that would disappear completely. It had a lot to do with disappearance and learning. It was also about trying to be a threat to the art-marketing system, and also, to be really honest, it was about being generous to a certain extent. I wanted people to have my work. The fact that someone could just come and take my work and carry it with them was very exciting. Freud said that we rehearse our fears in order to lessen them. In a way this ‘letting go’ of the work, this refusal to make a static form, a monolithic sculpture, in favor of disappearing, changing, unstable, and fragile form was an attempt on my part to rehearse my fears of having Ross disappear day by day right in front of my eyes. It’s really a weird thing when you see the public come into the gallery and walk away with a piece of paper that is ‘yours.’

TR: What is the function of duplication and repetition in your work? The stacks of paper or piles of candies that through accumulation comprise a work are internal forms—each individual piece of paper or piece of candy exists as a piece on its own. But they also exist as external forms when you place identical pieces in different sites and contexts.

FGT: All these pieces are indestructible because they can be endlessly duplicated. They will always exist because they don’t really exist or because they don’t have to exist all the time. They are usually fabricated for exhibition purposes and sometimes they are fabricated in different places at the same time. After all there is no original, only one original certificate of authenticity. If I am trying to alter the system of distribution of an idea through an art practice it seems imperative to me to go all the way with a piece and investigate new notions of placement, production, and originality.

In terms of different contexts, well, that’s a very complex issue that needs to be nailed down to a more specific example. As we know, context gives meaning. The language of these pieces depends, to a large degree, on the fact that they get seen and read in art contexts: museums, galleries, art magazines.

TR: Are the works a metaphor for the relation between the individual and the crowd?

FGT: Perhaps between public and private, between personal and social, between the fear of loss and the joy of loving, of growing, of changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and then being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need public interaction. Without a public these works are nothing, nothing. I need the public to complete my work. I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility, to become part of my work, to join in. I tend to think of myself as a theater director who is trying to convey some ideas by reinterpreting the notion of the division of roles: author, public, and director. Your question is more puzzling to me than I had previously thought because, yes, an individual piece of paper from one of the stacks does not constitute the “piece” itself, but in fact it is a piece. At the same time, the sum of many pieces of the identical paper is the “piece,” but not really because there is no piece only an ideal height of endless copies. As you know, these stacks are made up of endless copies or mass-produced prints. Yet each piece of paper gathers new meaning, to a certain extent, from its final destination, which depends on the person who takes it."

Excerpt from an interview with Felix Gonzalez-Torres by Tim Rollins, 1993; via orienteering.tumblr.com, originally published in Felix Gonzalez-TorresA.R.T. Press, Ed. William Bartman, 1993


"MC: […] If public and private are so interconnected, where do you think this need to separate them comes from?

FGT: Someone’s agenda have been enacted to define “public” and “private”. We’re really talking about private property because there is no private space anymore. Our intimate desires, fantasies, and dreams are ruled and interpreted by the public sphere.

MC: You mean like on the Internet?

FGT: Internet included. The explosion of the information industry, and at the same time the implosion of meaning. Meaning can only be formulated when we can compare, when we bring information to our daily level, to our ‘private’ sphere. Otherwise information just goes by. Which is what the ideological apparatuses want and need. ‘You give us thirty minutes and we give you the world”. A meaningless one. So public life is private life. In our culture, we live in a world of interrelations. As Lenin said, ‘everything is related to everything’."

Excerpt from an interview with Felix Gonzalez-Torres by Maurizio Cattelan, published in MOUSSE No. 9


"RS: What about ideas of a puritan anti-aesthetic?

FGT: I don't want that. No, between the Monet and Victor Burgin, give me the Monet. But as we know aesthetics are politics. They're not even about politics, they are politics. Because when you ask who is defining aesthetics, at what particular point - what social class, what kind of background these people have - you realize quickly again that the most effective ideological construction are the ones that don't look like it. If you say, I'm political, I'm ideological, that is not going to work, because people know where you are coming from. But if you say, "Hi! My name is Bob and this is it," then they say, that's not political. It's invisible and it really works. I think certain elements of beauty used to attract the viewer are indispensable. I don't want to make art just for people who can read Fredrick Jameson sitting upright on a Mackintosh chair. I want to make art for people who watch the ‘Golden Girls’ and sit in a big, brown, Lazy-boy chair. They're part of my public too, I hope.

RS: How do you think about the issue of engaging in explicitly social forms of art making with respect to your involvement with an activist collaborative project like Group Material? What's the relation between the work you did with them and what you do as an individual artist?

FGT: I always worked as an individual artist even when Group Material asked me to join the group. There are certain things that I can do by myself that I would never be able to do with Group Material. First of all, they are totally democratic entity and although you learn a lot from it, and it's very moving, it's very exacting, everything has to be by consensus, which is the beauty of it, but it is much more work. It's worth it 100%. But as an individual artist there are certain things that I want to bring out and express, and the collaborative practice is not conducive to that.

RS: Group Material's installations were generally a form of public address. How does that differ from what you've done on your own in other circumstances?

FGT: Well, if you think of the stacks, especially the early stacks, that was all about making these huge, public sculptures. When I started doing this work in 1988-89 the buzzword was public art. One thing that amazed me at that the difference between being public and being outdoors was not spoken about. It's a big difference. Public art is something which is really public, but outdoor public art is something that is usually made of good, long lasting material and is placed in the middle of somewhere, because it's too big to be inside. I was trying to deal with a solution that would satisfy what I thought was a true public sculpture, and that is when I came up with the idea of a stack. It was before people started making scatter art and stuff like that. So when people walked into the gallery at Andrea Rosen's and they saw all these stacks, they were really confused because it looked like a printing house, and I enjoyed it very much. And that's why I made the early stacks with the text. I was trying to give back information.

For example, there are ones I made with little snippets from the newspaper, which is one of the biggest sources of inspiration because you read it twice and you see these ideological constructions unravel right in front of your eyes. It wasn't just about trying to problematize the aura of the work or it's originality, because it could be reproduced three times in three different places and in the end, the only original thing about the work is the certificate of authenticity.

I always said that these were public sculptures; the fact that they were being shown in this so-called private space doesn't mean anything - all spaces are private, you have to pay for everything. You can't get a sculpture into a public space without going through the proper channels and paying money to do that. So again I was trying to show how this division between public and private was really just words."

Excerpt from an interview with Felix Gonzalez-Torres by Robert Storr, via queerculturalcenter.org; originally published by A.R.T. Press, January 1995