Felix Gonzalez-Torres was an artist, educator, writer, and activist. His practice evolved during the transition from the 1980s to the ‘90s, a period remembered for the emergence of the HIV/AIDS health crisis and changing attitudes towards government inaction, medicine, wealth and racial inequalities, war, the urgency of the climate crisis, burgeoning expressions of gender and sexuality, and the fight for freedom of speech and assembly. In just under a decade, before his death from AIDS-related causes, Gonzalez-Torres developed an expansive and influential body of work that brought him and audiences closer to an understanding of the fragility and complexity of being alive. In one moment, everything can be taken away. In another, everything can be restored.
Many of Gonzalez-Torres’s artworks take the form of mass-produced items—light strings, piles of candy, beaded curtains, stacks of paper, and signage—that can be locally sourced and adapted to any location. By choosing processes that removed his hand, Gonzalez-Torres ensured that the core of his work was stable enough to be sustained by and benefit from ongoing transformation. While the artworks are almost always designated “Untitled,” many of the titles also include parentheticals, imbuing the captions with opportunities for individual reflection. Even during his lifetime, Gonzalez-Torres chose to impart the rights and responsibilities of making decisions about his artwork to owners, authorized exhibitors, and the public, ensuring that each artwork’s significance varies with time, composition, geography, and experience.
This curated arrangement of artworks, titled Summer, establishes local resonances and generates new reflections on our relationship to the landscape, what the artist once alluded to as being not only the natural environment but also our “cultural concerns, political realities, and civic issues.” It embraces the spirit of transformation, the beauty and disquiet of being in one set of circumstances while longing for others. As the seasons change in Toronto, so too will the exhibition. When daylight extends and temperatures rise, the artworks will morph and migrate to new locations in the museum; consequently, the exhibition title will shift from Summer to Winter.
Expanding the breadth of this exhibition, Gonzalez-Torres’s billboard work, “Untitled” (Strange Bird), 1993, is displayed across six sites in the city and on the 4th floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario, until May 30, 2022. This project is presented in partnership with the AGO. For more information and the map of billboard locations, click here.
This project is curated by MOCA adjunct curator Rui Mateus Amaral. Summer is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s first solo exhibition in Canada.