Why did Félix González-Torres put free candy in a museum?

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Felix Gonzalez-Torres - "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, The Art Institute of Chicago
Felix Gonzalez-TorresUntitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in multicolor cellophane, endless supply. Dimensions vary with installation; ideal weight 175 lbs. At The Art Institute of Chicago
Photo: mark6mauno/Flickr

Published on: Wednesday November 16, 2016

Last updated

Why did Félix González-Torres install candy in museums?

Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ has created nineteen candy pieces which were featured in many museums around the world. Many of his works target HIV, a topic of a serious nature, one that is still unfortunately often taboo in mainstream society. It takes the topic from the shadows, where individuals still cringe and avert their eyes, and lays it on the table for discussion and contemplation.

Félix González-Torres – Untitled (USA Today), 1990
Félix González-Torres – Untitled (USA Today), 1990, Candies, individually wrapped in red, silver, and blue cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight: 300 lbs (136 kg), Museum MMK für Moderne Kunst MMK, Frankfurt
Photo: Axel Schneider/mmk.art

Félix González-Torres – Untitled (USA Today), 1990, Candies, individually wrapped in red, silver, and blue cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight 300 lbs (136 kg)
Félix González-Torres – Untitled (USA Today), 1990, Candies, individually wrapped in red, silver, and blue cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight: 300 lbs (136 kg), Museum MMK für Moderne Kunst MMK, Frankfurt
Photo: Axel Schneider/mmk.art

Félix González-Torres – Untitled (USA Today), 1990, Candies, individually wrapped in red, silver, and blue cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight 300 lbs (136 kg)
Félix González-Torres – Untitled (USA Today), 1990, Candies, individually wrapped in red, silver, and blue cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight: 300 lbs (136 kg)

Why is his work still relevant?

While there has been much development and change since the 1980s and 1990s, there has been no cure and there has remained a stigma attached to the disease. Treatment allows individuals with HIV to live long and fairly normal lives, however, there is still much more work needed in the area, and there is a need for unstigmatized conversation.

His works say so much and they are absolutely just as important today as it was in the 1990s. If you ever have the chance, these pieces are a must to see.

Félix González-Torres – Untitled (Portrait of Marcel Brient), 1992
Félix González-Torres – Untitled (Portrait of Marcel Brient), 1992, Candies, individually wrapped in light-blue cellophane (endless supply), Ideal weight: 198.5 lbs (90 kg); dimensions vary with installation.
Photo: Phillips/phillips.com

About Félix González-Torres

González-Torres created Untitled in 1991 around the time Ross, his boyfriend died from AIDS. A few years later he also dealt with the virus and he died in 1996. But his work remains a clear testament that things can change and we have to do everything in our power to keep people healthy and away from health issues, and he managed to successfully capture all of this in his comprehensive and downright emotional works.

Selected works

‘Untitled (Placebo)’, 1991

In Untitled (Placebo), González-Torres put a plethora of different types of blue candy on a showroom floor, and all of them were wrapped with blue cellophane. Visitors were encouraged to pick those pieces from the floor and eat them as they see fit. As you can imagine the candy pieces started to disappear and that left lots of empty space. But this was obviously a representation of something. In this case, it showed the huge amount of pills that ill patients take during their life.

It shows that regardless of how many pills you take, health problems will still catch up to you and that’s why you need to do everything you can in order to stay away from those problems from now on. Simple put, death doesn’t really care who you are, what statute you have or anything like that, and anyone can deal with illness.

But technology evolves and we are using it to treat illnesses. Before researchers created HIV treatments, people that had HIV or AIDS had either little or no hope to recover. But these things went away now that we have a way to deal with this.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres - Untitled (Placebo), 1991, Williams College Museum of Art, 2007-2008, photo Arthur Evans
Félix González-Torres – Untitled (Placebo), 1991, Candies, individually wrapped in silver cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight: 1,000 – 1,200 lbs (454 – 544 kg), Williams College Museum of Art, 2007-2008
Photo: Arthur Evans/williams.edu

Detail of Felix Gonzalez-Torres -Untitled (Placebo), 1991
Félix González-Torres – Untitled (Placebo), 1991, Candies, individually wrapped in silver cellophane (endless supply), Dimensions vary with installation Ideal weight: 1,000 – 1,200 lbs (454 – 544 kg)
Photo: MoMA/moma.org

‘Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)’, 1991

The approximate 175 pounds of candy that make up the work resembles the 175-pound body of Ross Laycock, the artists’ boyfriend who died of AIDS in 1991. As each person takes a piece of candy, they in turn act as the AIDS virus depleting Ross’ body, piece by piece taking it away until there is nothing left. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who dedicated his artwork to the one he love and lost, died in 1996 of AIDS.

His work doesn’t only represent the disease and its depletion on the body, but it represents the love between the person who is suffering from the disease and the person who is there to support them and suffer with them. The sweet candy, in and of itself, is a representation of love. If you think about giving candy to a loved one on valentine’s day, sweets in a box with flowers on mother’s day, candy has long been tied to affection and love. While the candy is eaten, while the body begins to disappear, the love remains.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres - "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, The Art Institute of Chicago
Felix Gonzalez-TorresUntitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in multicolor cellophane, endless supply. Dimensions vary with installation; ideal weight 175 lbs. At The Art Institute of Chicago

Felix Gonzalez-Torres - "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, The Art Institute of Chicago
Felix Gonzalez-TorresUntitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in multicolor cellophane, endless supply. Dimensions vary with installation; ideal weight 175 lbs. At The Art Institute of Chicago

Felix Gonzalez-Torres - "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, The Art Institute of Chicago
Felix Gonzalez-TorresUntitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991, Candies individually wrapped in multicolor cellophane, endless supply. Dimensions vary with installation; ideal weight 175 lbs. At The Art Institute of Chicago
Photo: About Art/naver.com

‘Untitled (Lover Boys)’, 1991

The weight of this pile of candy is 161 kg, the ideal joint weight of the artist’s and the artist’s partner’s bodies. His partner, Ross Laycock, was dying of AIDS as the work was done. Viewers are encouraged to take away candy from the pile, which then gets refilled by museum staff – symbolizing loss and eternity.

Felix Gonzalez‐Torres – Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991, installation view MMK, 2011
Felix Gonzalez‐Torres – Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991, installation view MMK, 2011
Photo: Axel Schneider/contemporaryartdaily.com

Felix Gonzalez‐Torres – Detail of Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991, installation view MAC Belfast, 2015-2016
Felix Gonzalez‐Torres – Detail of Untitled (Lover Boys), 1991, installation view MAC Belfast, 2015-2016
Photo: Simon Mills/themaclive.com

All images by The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation/felixgonzalez-torresfoundation.org unless otherwise noted.

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