Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

MAN Q&A: Michelle Reyes

Pin It

In recent years we’ve seen curators realize a number of artworks conceived — but not made — by artists before they died. The most prominent of these projects is Nancy Spector’s realization of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres for the U.S. pavilion in the upcoming Venice Biennale. The Venice presentation will “feature a never-before-realized work in the entrance courtyard of the Pavilion: two adjoining reflecting pools that form a figure eight, the sign of infinity, as both a silent mirror on our collective culture and a beacon of hope,” wrote Spector in her show proposal. FG-T originally designed the piece for the sculpture park at Western Washington University.
This week MAN has featured Q&As with Spector, Hirshhorn director Olga Viso (scroll down to see them). Today: Andrea Rosen Gallery/Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation guru Michelle Reyes on the forthcoming Venice project.

MAN: How did the idea for realizing this piece in Venice come about?
Michelle Reyes: It was Nancy’s [Spector] idea to include the piece in the pavilion. She had just written her proposal and emailed it to me which was the first time that I heard about its inclusion.
And as I understand it Felix had indicated that this was a piece he wanted to have realized after his death? How did he leave that idea behind?
I know that Felix hoped to see this piece realized before he died, whether it was in Washington state in 1992 or later.
Because this work did not have the opportunity to be made [for Western Washington University], since that time Felix was continually thinking about that particular work. He was not an artist who had a studio so he was always re-working things in his head in different scenarios and contexts, occasionally making drawings in his notebooks… I’ve seen drawings he made in notebooks of this piece and never once did he sway from the form of the piece. There is one drawing in his archives from 1993 that indicates he wanted to include it in his “Traveling” exhibition at the Hirshhorn in 1994. For him this is a work that all along he had plans to exhibit in the future, but for whatever reason it just never happened during his lifetime.
I have to say that Felix was an artist who was very specific about what he wanted to include in his oeuvre and this work was one of them. He left instructions to some extent for many of his pieces, but, given the nature of the work, this was not atypical. Take the Untitled (America) light-string piece. The ideal installation of this piece is outside, strung across a street but Felix never lived to see it installed in this way. There are things that can happen after an artist’s life that don’t happen during an artist’s life. Pieces have a history after an artist has died whether or not they were manifested.
Do we know why the piece planned for Venice was not installed?
It probably wasn’t the right moment. Finally it was something he was considering for an exhibition that he was planning on doing at CAPC Bordeaux, but ultimately he developed and decided to include other site-specific pieces, one of them an in-ground pools piece and the other an incredible double billboard installation. I have a bunch of paperwork [about that]. It’s interesting because the in-ground pools piece had a completely different genesis and the above-ground pools piece, as you know, was originally with this proposal from 1992.
In terms of his process, how far along did he get in realizing this piece?
For Felix it was more the idea and someone else with expertise was going to figure out how to make the piece based on Felix’s parameters, but it never got to the logistics stage. This process was not antithetical to his working practice and pertains to many other works of his.
So what we have and know of his intent for this piece is all in drawings and such?
There were also meetings and conversations we had too. He would call us on numerous occasions every day to talk about his work, including this piece. He had very set ideas about this piece. In addition, we have the drawings he intentionally left — an evolution of drawings. There is the final drawing, but it was an evolution for Felix to get to that final drawing. It started with the Western Washington University proposal.
Do you know how many drawings he made for this piece?
I don’t know how many there were… I can tell you how many I know of: Two official drawings, one that he proposed to Western Washington, which is very sketch-like, and one that is a more fully-formed drawing that he proposed in 1994-95. I would say that there are other drawings, at least two others, but not having gone through the full archive or his notebooks fully – they haven’t been archived – there’s no way of knowing how many drawings were in that evolution.
In some of the drawings of other artists that have been realized, say Smithson’s Floating Island, there have been notes on the drawing or maybe even questions about what the realized piece would include. Is that the case for this piece?

This is fully formed, completely, no questions. But as per Felix’s working practice, there were parameters for the flexibility intrinsic to the work – there is a choice of two sizes and a choice of materials. As with the majority of Felix’s work, it will look different each time it is installed. There is no one true installation. This is one of the core aspects of the nature of all of Felix’s work.
Will you show any of the drawings that Felix made for this piece, either in Venice or in New York?
That would really go against Felix’s practice. When you bring these things into the public realm it would obfuscate how he wanted his body of work represented.
So will anything of the history of this project be published as a book or some such thing, drawings, documentation, what-have-you?
I don’t know about a book, but there’s always the potential in the future for papers from his personal materials to be archived for the public so that scholars, students, and such, can have access to them. The Estate and the Foundation are thinking about this in terms of a long-term decision. The Foundation has already become a place researchers can visit and access the information we have here now.

Pin It

Comments are closed.