Instruments of Change: Felix Gonzalez-Torres

During his brief but meteoric career, Cuban-born American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres articulated the weighty subjects of love and loss, public and private life, illness and health, despite his works' simplicity and frequent ephemerality.

Using mundane, everyday materials—strings of lights, paper, beads, candy—Gonzalez-Torres provocatively questioned notions of agency and ownership in art. His spilled piles of wrapped candies and cubical paper stacks are free for the taking and are perpetually replenished, inviting the viewer to engage the work on both a physical and intellectual level. Some works were also left open to interpretation with descriptions such as “ideal height,” “dimensions vary” and “endless copies.” Installation view of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (Blue Cross), 1990 at Andrea Rosen Gallery

Now, a three-part exhibition opening in May at Andrea Rosen, Massimo De Carlo and Hauser & Wirth explores the rich and nuanced perspectives inherent in making the works anew. Each venue in the series of shows curated by artists Julie Ault and Roni Horn is its own experience, but together they contribute to a larger dialogue around the transformative power of Gonzalez-Torres. Andrea Rosen, the dealer who opened her eponymous gallery in 1990 with a Gonzalez-Torres show, represented the artist until his death of AIDS in 1996 at the age of 38, and now oversees his estate. She reflects on more than 26 years of engaging with the artist’s work and its lasting impact. Installation view of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' "Untitled" (Natural History), 1990 at Andrea Rosen Gallery

Andrea Rosen: "In many ways he’s the backbone of my gallery and also a constant touchstone for me. The years I’ve spent working with Felix’s work have been an intense training in the way of thinking of an exhibition—how to think and what your responsibility is to the world at large, to openness in general, to the beauty and complexity of change. To take one piece of Felix and know that there are these endless possibilities of how that piece will unfold over time, in that way, the work is beyond alive.

"It’s not one perfect final conclusion. Felix’s work is always this journey. It is always about the present, it is always about now. And sometimes it’s about the future because you can perceive it moving forward, as well. It’s an allowance for a kind of fearlessness about how to move ahead. It’s also about shifting perspectives and how each person has their own responsibility to the work different than someone else. What is fantastic is that it is a link in a continuous chain. This exhibition is an open circle where it almost allows for a lot of other interpretation. I think the show reflects that it’s not a be-all-end-all but a kind of trajectory."

"Felix Gonzalez-Torres" will be open at Andrea Rosen from May 3–June 18; at Massimo de Carlo, Milan from May 20; and at Hauser & Wirth, London from May 26–July 30