I’m an exclusively chocolate treat-eater, but I made an exception for a fruit-flavored hard candy last year.
I stood in front of “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) by Felix Gonzalez-Torres at the Art Institute of Chicago. The candy was one of thousands in a mound on the floor; I stood there, and I pondered what might inspire someone to create something so fragile, so time-dependent, so easily gone stale. Isn’t the meaning of art to create things that will transcend the boundaries of time?
Aside from the obvious fact that this seemed wildly out of place amongst the Rothkos and the Warhols, I was taken aback by museum visitors bending down to take pieces, unwrapping them, and eating them. The Golden Rule of museums is not to touch the art; therefore, taking something from a work and consuming it?!?! Blatantly insane.
This piece weighs 175 pounds, what Gonzalez-Torres’ partner, Ross Laycock, weighed before the AIDS took over his body. Gonzalez-Torres died in 1996… If people keep taking the candies and the pile doesn’t keep getting smaller, who has been refilling it? Is there an endless supply or will someone, someday, decide to suddenly stop? Who gets to make that decision?
Gonazelz-Torres was born in Guiámaro, Cuba in 1957, but he spent most of his working life in New York City. His growth as a twentieth-century artist has drawn attention toward Cuba as a bubbling cauldron of artistic ideas; and, by extension, street art is booming!
Cuban vivacity is reflected in the bright colors of paintings on the street. There is a uniformity in the colored brushstrokes and the images of vintage cars, children, and Cuban landscapes. The city itself has an undulating motion—a constant vibration—that materializes itself in the choppy, textured brushstrokes on the canvases. The city is alive, as is the art scene!
Another Cuban painter—arguably one of the most famous early 20th-century artists—Wilfredo Lam brought together elements of Cubism and Surrealism with African culture in his paintings. He studied in Spain and then Paris before moving back to Havana in 1941. His most famous piece, The Jungle, which he created in 1943, depicts four grotesque figures with mask-like faces emerging from a green, chaotic jungle.
The figures—tall and spindly and freaky-looking with massive feet—is a meditation on Cuban socio-economic status and the intense poverty of the region, his European Surrealist education, and his re-introduction to Afro-Caribbean culture. A massive production, 94 ¼ x 90 ½,” standing in front of the painting is like being transported to another world. The piece is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The Wilfredo Lam Contemporary Art Center in Havana recognizes the incredible work he did to bring light to the Cuban artistic identity and allows visitors the opportunity to learn.
Now is the perfect time to go to Cuba! And, if you’re hungry, you can even plan a trip around Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ candy piles, some of which are on display in the United States. “Untitled” (Public Opinion) is at the Guggenheim in New York right now!
There are very few places in the world as colorful as Cuba. Reflecting the attitude of the people, the chords of the Caribbean music, the vibes of the culture, and the merchant creativity, Cuba has a sense of otherworldliness. Yet, at the same time, Cuba feels developing, raw, and whole.
Written by Mitzi Harris