Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) has revised the label accompanying the Felix Gonzalez-Torres' installation "Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)" to reinstate references both to Gonzalez-Torres' partner Ross Laycock and both men's HIV status, which were omitted in a previous revision.
The change came after AIC received negative feedback online in the wake of that initial revision. Windy City Times was copied on correspondence to AIC from a reader, Zac Thriffiley, who noted that AIC had revised the installation so that it did not specifically mention Laycock or the HIV infection with which he and Gonzalez-Torres lived. Thriffiley called the initial revision an act of "queer erasure."
The installation consists of a large mound of commercially produced, individually wrapped candies weighing roughly 175 poundsthe average weight of a male. Visitors are encouraged to take candies, and the supply is frequently replenished, representing the fluctuations of weight experienced by the body.
"By removing any reference to HIV/AIDS and queer sexuality, your curatorial staff and the Institute as a whole have stripped the work of its personal resonance and political power for the many, many visitors not already familiar with the work," Thriffiley wrote in the letter.
With the changes Thriffiley noted, the plaque read: "Felix Gonzalez-Torres's work is characterized by a sense of quiet elegy. He possessed an uncanny ability to produce elegant and restrained sculptural forms out of common materials. 'Untitled' (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) consists of commercially available, shiny wrapped confections. The physical form of the work changes depending on the way it is installed. The ideal weight of the work, 175 pounds, corresponds to the average body weight of an adult male. As visitors choose to take candy from the work, the volume and weight of the work decrease."
The current version of the placard was hung Sept. 29, according to AIC Vice President of Marketing and Communications Katie Rahm. That new placard reads:
"Felix Gonzalez-Torres produced meaningful and restrained sculptural forms out of common materials. "Untitled" (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) consists of an ideal weight of 175 pounds of shiny, commercially distributed candy. The work's physical form and scale change with each display, affected by its placement in the gallery as well as audience interactions. Regardless of its physical shape, the label lists its ideal weight, likely corresponding to the average body weight of an adult male, or perhaps the ideal weight of the subject referred to in the title, Ross Laycock, the artist's partner who died of complications from AIDS in 1991, as did Gonzalez-Torres in 1996. As visitors take candy, the configuration changes, linking the participatory action with losseven though the work holds the potential for endless replenishment."
Rahm told Windy City Times, "In concert with artists and their estates/foundations, we continually update labels to introduce different types of context. In this case, we heard visitor feedback to the previous label and took the opportunity to revise the text."