Discussion by Jonathan Katz, co-curator of “Hide/Seek” and Chair of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program at SUNY-Buffalo.
"Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Even as a minimalist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres also had a whimsical, humanistic side that showed the influences of pop art on his installations. In this "portrait" of his deceased partner, Ross Laycock, Gonzalez-Torres created a spill of candies that approximated Ross’s weight (175 lbs.) when he was healthy. Viewers are invited to take away a candy until the mound gradually disappears; it is then replenished, and the cycle of life and death continues. While Gonzalez-Torres wanted the viewer/participant to partake of the sweetness of his own relationship with Ross, the candy spill also works as an act of communion. More darkly, the steadily diminishing pile of cheerfully wrapped candies shows the dissolution of the gay community as society ignored the AIDS epidemic. In the moment that the candy dissolves in the viewer’s mouth, the participant also receives a shock of recognition at his or her complicity in Ross’s demise.
“Untitled” by David Wojnarowicz: David Wojnarowicz created this image with his friend and long-time collaborator Marion Scemama only months before Wojnarowicz would receive the death sentence of a positive test for AIDS/HIV. "When I was told that I’d contracted this virus it didn’t take me long to realize that I’d contracted a diseased society, as well," Wojnarowicz once said. Here, on the brink of a premature death, Wojnarowicz is at once disappearing peacefully into the American landscape and being violently suffocated by it.
David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) Gelatin silver print, 1990 (printed 1993) Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; purchased as the gift of Louis Wiley Jr. (PA 1963) and John Clarke Kane Jr. (PA 1963) in memory of Paul L. Monette (PA 1963) on the occasion of their fiftieth reunion
Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996) Candies individually wrapped in multicolored cellophane, endless supply, 1991 The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; on extended loan from the Donna and Howard Stone
"Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture" was on view at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, from October 30, 2010 through February 13, 2011.
For more on the exhibit, visit the exhibit website at: http://npg.si.edu/exhibit/hideseek .