Felix Gonzalez-Torres Broke all the Right Rules

What strange places galleries are, so intimate and yet public, free to all and yet connected inevitably to high finance.  These are the perplexing quandaries presented by the Felix Gonzalez-Torres show at David Zwirner in Chelsea, New York City, on view until June 24th.

Upon entering the gallery, one is struck at first by space – and a lot of it.  The ceilings are cathedral height, and a wall-to-wall beaded curtain separates two sections of the enormous first room, the beads a playful alternation between white and clear – colors (or lack thereof) the artist seems to be fond of.  Two piles of enormous white paper sit adjacent each other to the right of the entrance, and in a plain and rather small font centered on each are the statements: “Nowhere better than this place” and, “Somewhere better than this place.”  As I was making my notes about these intriguing stacks of paper a woman shocked me by reaching down and taking one of each, rolling them up into each other and explaining to my flummoxed expression, “It’s public art.”  We had a laugh about it, since my initial response was that she was breaking the rules – a response clearly orchestrated by the artist, and a wonderful reach into my personal emotions.


Two small circular mirrors lie on the wall directly across from the entrance, and seem not worth commenting on but rather to comment upon the show itself, the viewer itself, the gallery itself.  Beyond the fabulous curtain that contains no opening and thus must be parted, creating inevitable noise and movement that seem, again, to break the rules of a gallery, lie a small pair of photographs of far-away birds, and a double-take reveals that the entire wall adjacent is in fact a print of another of these, a tiny, grainy silhouette of a bird in the center only noticeable upon closer inspection.

The first color of the exhibit is gold: the foil of wrapped candies on the floor running the length of the wall of the next room and which the viewers may pocket if they choose.  Along the ceiling above is a list of dates and places – the associations unclear, a motif that is expanded on more in another room with a television that plays sometimes cryptic, sometimes humorous subtitles with no images.  A string of lights runs up through a stairwell that goes on for several stories, but there is only a second floor with rooms trimmed in gauzy blue curtains, another pile of candy, another beaded curtain: what’s on display, we realize, is the gallery itself, the space it occupies and the power it contains – won’t these displays eventually disappear?  The candy run out?  The paper piles deplete?  The artist has given the viewers the tantalizing experience of a free gift shop, but upon leaving we are made ludicrous pawns in his game: the papers I took were inevitably moistened by rain and damaged by transit.  The perfection of a gallery is a game of control in which we all become spectators and participants, and the goal to take the artwork thus empties our playground.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

April 27 – June 24, 2017

David Zwirner

537 W 20th St, New York NY 10011

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