At one of Félix González-Torres’ installations many years ago, I was taken aback that not only could I touch the art, I could take the art, even eat the art. It was a sparkling floor display of golden-wrapped candy in an almost-perfect rectangle. The artist dedicated it to a queer friend under the theme of Candy Works, which encompasses other installations, such as the 175 pounds of different color-wrapped candy in honor of his partner who died of HIV/AIDs. In “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), viewers can take the candy—as a souvenir or to eat—and the mound’s diminishment demonstrates his partner’s decline due to a pandemic that was not considered a pandemic by many. More than two decades after González-Torres dies from HIV/AIDs, I begin writing this essay once the U.S. has reached 175,000 deaths due to our government’s lack of preparedness for covid-19. I imagine a sea of vivid candy unable to fit within the confines of any building. Another era, another pandemic, but the same form of inaction that leads to our nation’s depletion.
González-Torres’ installations invite museumgoers to touch the candy, move it around, take it. Afterwards, the staff replenishes the mounds to their original weight. This is why the gamut of this artist’s work has sprung up in my daydreams since March of 2020. The installations no longer have a symbiotic relationship between the creator, the museum facilitators, and observers. I can’t go into a museum or touch my friends. To touch is both a privilege and a danger. Even now, as museums open with limited capacity, I doubt administrators will allow people to touch a mound of candy throughout the day anytime soon. These semi-sculptures will remain stagnant until safe for the “depletion and replenishment” process to recommence. For now, I visit Candy Works on the Félix González-Torres Foundation’s website, reveling in them with partial delight and hope, while still acknowledging the weight of his work in relation to a new pandemic.
Victoria Buitron is a writer and translator whose work has been featured or is upcoming in Entropy, The Bare Life Review, Spry Lit, and more.
Félix González-Torres (1957-1996) was a Cuban-born American artist known for his minimalist installations and sculptures using household objects, such as stacks of paper and hard candies. His work is often considered a reflection of his sexuality and experience with AIDS.