Review: Félix González-Torres

The eagerly anticipated retrospective will take your breath away

'"Untitled" (Perfect Lovers)" by González-Torres
In the first solo exhibition in China from the influential artist, Rockbund Art Museum presents more than 40 of Félix González-Torres’ selected artworks from 30 institutions and collections across the world. Beautifully curated by Larys Frogier and Li Qi, Frogier says he wants this to be ‘a holistic experience for every visitor, inducing emotional, critical, political and historical responses’.

You enter the exhibition through glistening beaded drapes, in themselves one of González-Torres’ unique works, which certainly set the scene for the rest of the show. Each floor of the five-storey gallery contains a selection of perfectly placed artworks, from González-Torres’ famous string of lights, to ‘endless’ piles of paper, to a delicately presented ‘portrait’ of the artist’s life partner Ross, which is, in fact, a sloped mountain of colourful boiled sweets. Visitors are invited to help themselves to both paper and sweets, and in the magic of it all even the stacks of plain paper on the floor feel like a photo-op.

Audience interaction with the work is as important to the co-curators as it was to González-Torres himself, and through the sweets and paper being taken and moved, the exhibition is always changing, showing the scope of potential around the works. González-Torres believed that every audience member has the equal right to a point of view, and it is up to us to interpret the delicate works as we choose. Another captivating work is the simple podium on the third floor, painted in blue and framed with light bulbs. Once a day, for just a few minutes, a Go-Go dancer emerges to perform on the platform, dancing in silver shorts while listening to music through headphones. No one can tell exactly when that will be. Do you wait a little while longer? Or have you already missed it?

González-Torres’ mesmerising works are not only stunning on the surface, but intelligently blur the lines between the private and public spheres, inviting each audience member to reflect on their own individuality through shared ideas and social or political history. This is particularly present in the collection of framed photostat works, in which a fully black background covers where photographic images ought to appear, with only a list of dates and names of political and media events filling the space. As you look at the perfectly black field, you are able to see yourself in the reflection of the glass frame, and it is only your own interpretation of the concepts, for example, ‘North Korea’ and ‘Disneyland’ that bring them together as a coherent work of art.

On your way out, you’ll encounter one of González-Torres’ most famous works ‘“Untitled” (Perfect Lovers)’, two commercial clocks on the wall of the first-floor gift shop. The clocks, gently touching, are perfectly synchronised to the current time. As the nights draw in, this intense show is the perfect wintery delight. On display until December 25, there’s absolutely no reason why you should miss it.

Félix González-Torres at Rockbund Art Museum until December 25. Entry is 30RMB.