I immediately recognized the blue stack of paper that stood on the floor of MUMOK’s winter exhibition To Expose, To Show, To Demonstrate, To Inform, To Offer: Artistic Practices Around 1990. I was expecting to see this work, Felix Gonzales-Torres’s Untitled (LoverBoy) 1990) here – I first learned about the artist a few years earlier while studying the political and social art of the 1990’s and remembered the artist’s key role in the New York art scene during this time upon entering the exhibition. During class, I found myself desperately wanting to see one of Gonzales-Torres’s stacks in person. I was regardless excited in my hopes of seeing the object, but was unsure whether this was due to my respect for the work or desire to own a piece of it.
The stack was standing in the middle of the room next to another larger, similarly-colored block whose edges were lined with lightbulbs, but there was no museum text visibly accompanying the two objects. My collegiate and independent studies led me to believe that I was closely familiar with the sculpture and its meanings, an understanding literally quantified by my physical taking from it. Yet when I encountered this object, I felt unsure of both my knowledge and my, and walked around the stack of paper and got as close as I possibly could without touching it. Although I knew by wishes of the artist that I was allowed, encouraged, even, to take a sheet of paper from the top, I was still reluctant to do so, nervous that I would get in trouble for interfering with or vandalizing a precious work of art. So, instead of taking a piece of paper from
the stack, I left the object to look for MUMOK’s permission to engage with it.
Dietler and Miller acknowledge the close relationship between consumption, power relations, and the shaping of identity (Dietler, 2010 and Miller, 2010). Untitled (LoverBoy) obtains many of its many of its meanings and metaphors through its depletion and consumption – each participator’s collection of the sculpture constitutes his or her role within the its biography. The fact that this consumption takes place within the museum highlights the power relations between the museum as rule-setter and its visitors as behavioral conformists. For example, most museums do not allow viewers to touch or even stand too close to its objects, and the rule-breaking behavior suggested by Untitled (LoverBoy) the authoritative, or at least dominant, role of the museum in forming the ways in which individuals interact with objects one-sided determination of object display and interaction within the art institution (Macdonald, 1998).
After my folded sheet of paper and I finished walking through thehibition, I returned to Untitled (LoverBoy) and took a second sheet of paper to give to one of my good friends who also admires the artist as a Christmas present and souvenir from my time in Austria. We both keep the sheets of paper hung in our bedrooms. Many of my friends have asked me why I decided to hang a large blank sheet of paper on my wall among postcards of other art objects. To answer this question I must explain the work of art and its metaphors, and through this explanation Untitled (LoverBoy) enters the mind and potentially life of yet another person.
Dietler, M. (2010) Consumption. In D. Hicks & M. Beaudry (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Material Culture Studies (pp. 209-228). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Guggenheim. Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Collections Online. New York, NY. Guggenheim Museum. http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/artists/bios/793/Felix%20GonzalezTorres
Keats, Jonathon. (Aug 30, 2012). How Felix Gonzalez-Torres Continues Making Art 16 Years After His Death. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathonkeats/2012/08/30/how-felix-gonzalez-torres-continues-making-art-16-years-after-his-death/#4734628963d3
Macdonad, Sharon. (1998). THe Politics of Display: Museums, Science, Culture. Lonton: Rootledge.