… the ghost of the present.

FGT portrait wongs
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Portrait of The Wongs), 1991

In this third section from Miwon Kwon’s essay, The Becoming of a Work of Art: FGT and a Possibility of Renewal, a Chance to Share, a Fragile Truce, she talks about Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ portraits and their spatial relationships with the rooms they occupy.

“It is striking that the artist viewed the ultimate act of taking control, of becoming empowered as an author, to be found in a masochistic negation, a paradoxical assertion of identity and power through the “death” of his artwork, and by extension self-negation as author. The radical implications of such an outlook are the starkest when we consider his “portrait” series originating in 1989, which is structured like his “datelines,” that is, as a sequence of words and dates evenly spaced as a running line of text and numbers, but painted directly on ideally contiguous walls of a given room, just below where the ceiling meets the walls, as a frieze along the room’s entire perimeter. As is well known, these unorthodox portraits do not offer visual likeness of their subjects, nor do they narrate their life stories in any conventional sense. Like the discontinuous events and dates cited in the Sheridan Square billboard, FGT’s portraits offer a non-chronological, “incoherent,” or open set of events and dates that frame a void, in this case the space of the room in which the work is installed, whether this be someone’s home or in a museum. The specific events and dates constituting the content if these portraits are a mix of personally significant moments chosen by the portrait’s subjects and historically and culturally significant moments chosen by the artist. Their juxtapositions produce a tension in which the “sitter’s” private moments become contrapuntally charged by the public ones and vice versa. Simultaneously, the spare inventory of past event, literally framing a given space, “captions” the activities taking place within it, underscoring the constancy of the past as the grounds or the ghost of the present.” –pp.303-4


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