Felix Gonzalez-Torres - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, March 3, 2022 | Phillips
  • 'I'd like to propose once more the 'radical' idea that we can make this a better place for everyone.'
    — Felix Gonzalez-Torres

    Contemplative and deeply poetic, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 is a profoundly moving sculptural expression that is at once personal and poignantly universal, evoking myriad associations such as love, loss, and the potential for continuous renewal. “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 comprises two standard light bulbs in porcelain sockets, hanging from electrical cords, gently resting in the warm, softly diffused glow of the other. Executed in 1991, the year his partner Ross Laycock died of complications from AIDS, the work may be seen as a discreet celebration of the beginning of life rather than the finitude of death, as the work quietly incorporates Ross’s birthday into the parenthetical portion of its title, creating a space where ‘people do not endure alone; they survive in pairs, as part of loving couples who age together […] constituting a community of two.’i  Formally, Gonzalez-Torres’s use of parentheses alludes to the subtle ways in which language can shape our experiences, while also ensuring that his own experiences and references do not circumscribe the potential meanings that his work might accrue over time.

    Highly representative of the American, Cuban-born artist’s conceptual practice in its charged use of everyday objects and expansive thematic scope, “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 marks the artist’s first use of illuminated light bulbs, directly prefiguring his celebrated light strings, a body of work comprising 24 pieces created between 1992 and 1994 which have since become synonymous with the artist. Of the artist’s works made with light bulbs, “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 is poetic in its careful union of concept and execution, the two bare bulbs elegantly suspended from long cords and intertwined like two lives.


    Absence, Loss, and AIDS Activism
    'I think one of the reasons that I made artwork was for Ross. […] I also make art to describe how I feel about other issues that are outside the so-called private sphere.'
    —Felix Gonzalez Torres

    While absence and the pain of loss are insinuated by many of Gonzalez-Torres’s conceptual works, surfacing in the billboard of an empty double bed, the stacks of papers, and the jigsaw puzzles produced by the artist from the late 1980s onwards, these themes are invariably intertwined with a broad horizon of other potential meanings and political contexts. Indeed, the use of commonplace forms and often allusive imagery were part of the artist’s nuanced efforts to ensure that the meaning of his works could remain thoroughly open-ended. In the context of the AIDS crisis and its exposure of an insidious homophobia that loomed large in cultural discourses during those years, Gonzalez-Torres’s works avoided entanglement in censorship through a notable avoidance of didactic expression; rather, the artist created works whose meanings are contingent upon their audiences. Gonzalez-Torres’s work can also be read in context with the politically engaged visual activism of Keith Haring’s work; however, Gonzalez-Torres’s artistic practice offers a distinct complement to his efforts as an activist—informed by, but not contingent upon any one political project. The profound power of a work like “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 lies not only in the experience of a specific historical moment, not only in the austere and resonant beauty of its form (and its subtle reference to a loved one), but in its graceful proposition that illness and loss are fundamentally interlaced with a potential for infinite renewal.


    Demonstrators chanting at AIDS rally, New York City, New York, 2002

    Also conceived in 1991, the moving installation “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) can be interpreted as addressing the physical realities of AIDS more directly. Its heap of candies in multi-coloured wrappers can diminish over time as participants remove the candies one by one. With an ideal weight of 175 pounds, the candies can be seen as a poignant surrogate for the body of a lost lover, friend, or stranger, yet the narrative is decidedly more complex than a literalization of loss, as the exhibitor can choose to replenish the candy at any time.


    While Gonzalez-Torres’s candy works may conjure the individual body, massed bodies, and the physical reality of AIDS (among an infinite array of other intimations), “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 is aligned with a broader motif organised around the compositional structure of doubles. A work made nearly contemporaneously, and sharing nearly the same title, “Untitled” (March 5th) #1 used two circular mirrors to explore the persistence of love, feelings of loss, and the endurance of the coupled form: looking into one mirror, a viewer’s individual reflection may emphasise the emptiness of the second, or it may be seen in concert with the reflection of another. Echoing this coupling, “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 adds a significant durational element—while both bulbs glow together, one will eventually burn out. Yet this loss is not permanent; when a bulb burns out, it must be immediately replaced, thereby pairing the experience of loss with the prospect of regeneration (The work may be exhibited with both bulbs turned on, or both bulbs turned off.) This cycle of uniformity, change, and renewal is also present in the compositionally related “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), where two wall clocks are installed side-by-side and set to the same time, moving in synchronicity until one inevitably slows and potentially stops, at which point the clocks are to be reset to the accurate time in the location of their installation. In the clocks of “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers) and the paired bulbs of “Untitled” (March 5th) #2, we may see a universal fear ‘of being just one,’ just as we might see an artist reconciling such fears with belief in a certain promise of immortality.iv


    Duchamp and the Readymade

    'I think more than anything else I'm just an extension of certain practices, minimalism or conceptualism, that I am developing areas I think were not totally dealt with.'
    —Felix Gonzalez-Torres

    In his use of mass-produced, quotidian objects, Gonzalez-Torres’s work may recall the earliest Dada Readymades developed by Marcel Duchamp and his contemporaries. The materials used in “Untitled” (March 5th) #2 suggest a particular proximity to Duchamp’s glass constructions, and the glass vial of ‘Paris Air’ that he gifted to Walter Arensberg in 1919. Like Duchamp, Gonzalez-Torres understood that the quotidian object was so familiar as to be open to multiple meanings, endowing it with a certain metaphorical power. The light bulb immediately conjures associations tied to light, energy, warmth, security, and home to name a few, which are amplified by the presentation of the bulbs as a couple. Building on these metaphorical foundations, the work’s allusive yet open-ended title, and the artist’s subtle engagement of both personal memories and shared universal experiences, we can perceive a wholesale recontextualization of these associations and the introduction of more complex ideas surrounding finitude, fragility, separation, loss and their potential inverses of endlessness, durability, union, and renewal.


    Marcel Duchamp, 50 cc of Paris Air, 1919, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. Image: Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950, 1950-134-78, Artwork: © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

    Far from Duchamp’s claim that the everyday objects involved in his Dada Readymades were selected with ‘visual indifference,’ Gonzalez-Torres’s choice of objects was carefully considered, imbuing them with metaphorical weight and poetic significance. Similarly, while his sculptural forms often elicit comparison to Minimalism’s coolly detached use of immediately available objects—such as Dan Flavin’s light sculptures or Donald Judd’s stacks—the artist makes significant departures from this tradition of impersonal neutrality, instead making work ‘at once lyrical in its poetry of loss and strident in its cry of rage.’ii


    The generosity and collaborative nature of Gonzalez-Torres’s practice is perhaps best summed up by his desire that curators showing his work, owners, and anyone interacting with his work would play a participatory role (which varies among different bodies of work). Asked about an "ideal response" to his work, Gonzalez-Torres replied: "The answer will be very rhetorical because it would be, in each case, dependent upon the site, the date, and the purpose or the work, which changes in each case. I suppose I would be satisfied if they took action sometimes, or if it caused them to be critical, moved, inspired. Or to celebrate difference and the idea of change and renewal, the chance for love. I'd like to propose once more the 'radical' idea that we can make this a better place for everyone.“iii


    i Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, (exh. cat.) The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996, p. 143.
    ii Felix Gonzalez-Torres, quoted in Nancy Spector, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, (exh. cat.) The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1996, p. 15.

    iii Ferguson, Bruce. “Felix  Gonzalez-Torres” (Taped interview). Rhetorical Image. By Deidre Summerbell. New York: New Museum. 1990. P. 48.

    • Provenance

      Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in October 1991

    • Exhibited

      Brussels, Galerie Xavier Hufkens, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Michael Jenkins, March - April 1991 (another example exhibited)
      Glens Falls, The Hyde Collection, Just what is it that makes today’s home so different, so appealing?, 8 September - 17 November 1991 (another example exhibited)
      Tokyo, Wacoal Art Center of Spiral Garden, Three or More: A Multiple Exhibition, 1 October - 24 October 1992, p. 82 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Glasgow, Tramway, Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics, 26 October - 1 December 1992 (another example exhibited)
      Washington, D.C., The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Smithsonian Institution; Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Traveling, 24 April - 11 September 1994 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Fischbach Gallery, Absence, Activism and the Body Politic, 9 June - 28 July 1994 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 3 March - 10 May 1995 (another example exhibited)
      Santiago de Compostela, Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, Felix Gonzalez-Torres (A Possible Landscape), 12 December 1995 - 3 March 1996 (another example exhibited)
      Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Felix Gonzalez-Torres (Girl Friend in a Coma), 11 April - 16 June 1996 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Greene Naftali Gallery, Broken Home, May - June 1997 (another example exhibited)
      Hannover, Sprengel Museum; Kunstmuseum St. Gallen; Vienna, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1 June 1997 - 1 November 1998 (another example exhibited)
      Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró, Lux / Lumen, 19 June - 7 October 1997 (another example exhibited)
      Harrisburg, Susquehanna Art Museum, I’m Not Here: Constructing Identity at the Turn of the Century, 2 December 1999 - 24 February 2000 (another example exhibited)
      St. Gallen, Sammlung Hauser und Wirth, The Oldest Possible Memory, 14 May - 15 October 2000 (another example exhibited)
      Albuquerque, National Hispanic Cultural Center of New Mexico, La Luz: Contemporary Latino Art in the United States, 21 October 2000 - 27 May 2001 (another example exhibited)
      Dallas Museum of Art, Gonzalez-Torres/Joseph Beuys, 16 February - 6 May 2001 (another example exhibited)
      Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, A Matter of Degree: Abstraction in Twentieth Century Art, 10 November 2001 - 27 January 2002 (another example exhibited)
      Avignon, Collection Lambert, Coolustre, 25 May - 28 September 2003 (another example exhibited)
      Paris, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Eblouissement, 23 June - 12 September 2004 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Lehman Maupin, L'Art Vivre, 15 April - 14 May 2005 (another example exhibited)
      Waltham, The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Broken Home, 23 January - 13 April 2008 (another example exhibited)
      Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Sparks! The William T. Kemper Collecting Initiative, 3 May - 20 July 2008 (another example exhibited)
      Clermont-Ferrand, L’Espace d’Art Contemporain La Tôlerie, La Foule (Zéro – Infini): Chapitre 1 (unity - dualité - la meute - la masse), 6 May - 15 July 2008 (another example exhibited)
      Paris, Passage du Retz; Israel, Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Insomniac Promenades: Dreaming/Sleeping in Contemporary Art, 11 July 2008 - 3 July 2009 (another example exhibited)
      Clermont-Ferrand, L’Espace d’Art Contemporain La Tôlerie, La Foule (Zéro – Infini): Chapitre 2 (chaos - contrôle), 10 October - 30 November 2008 (another example exhibited)
      Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Permanent Collection Installation, 21 December 2009 - 22 January 2013 (another example exhibited)
      Brussels, Wiels Contemporary Art Centre; Basel, Fondation Beyeler; Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form, 16 January 2010 - 25 April 2011 (another example exhibited)
      Mexico City, Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo, Somewhere/Nowhere, 27 February - 23 May 2010 (another example exhibited)
      Art Institute of Chicago, Contemporary Collecting: The Judith Neisser Collection: Minimal and Postminimal Innovation, 13 February - 22 May 2011 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Pace Gallery, Burning, Bright: A Short History of the Lightbulb, 28 October - 26 November 2011 (another example exhibited)
      Kunstmuseum Basel; Siegent, Museum für Gegenwartskunst; Lisbon, Culturgest; New York, Artists Space, Tell It to My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault, 2 February 2013 - 23 February 2014 (another example exhibited)
      Paris, La Galerie des Galeries, In a Sentimental Mood, 28 May - 8 August 2013 (another example exhibited)
      Cleveland, Museum of Contemporary Art, DIRGE: Reflections on [Life and] Death, 7 March - 8 June 2014 (another example exhibited)
      Centre Pompidou-Metz, 1984-1999 La Décennie, 24 May 2014 - 2 March 2015 (another example exhibited)
      Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Pacific Design Center, Tongues Untied, 6 June - 13 September 2015 (another example exhibited)
      Avignon, Collection Lambert, Patrice Chéreau, un musée imaginaire, 11 July - 11 October 2015 (another example exhibited)
      Dublin, Irish Museum of Modern Art, What We Call Love: From Surrealism to Now, 12 September 2015 - 14 February 2016 (another example exhibited)
      Modena, Manifattura Tabacchi, The Mannequin of History: Art after Fabrications of Critique and Culture, 18 September 2015 - 31 January 2016 (another example exhibited)
      Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Permanent Collection Installation, September 2015 - 2020 (another example exhibited)
      Paris, Passage de Retz, Représenter l'Irreprésentable?, 5 December 2015 - 15 January 2016 (another example exhibited)
      Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst, An Imagined Museum: Works from the Centre Pompidou, the Tate and the MMK, 24 March - 4 September 2016 (another example exhibited)
      London, Hauser & Wirth, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 27 May - 30 July 2016 (another example exhibited)
      Reading, Artangel, Inside. Contemporary Artists and Writers in Reading Prison, 4 September - 4 December 2016 (another example exhibited)
      Cleveland Museum of Art, Permanent Collection Installation, 27 February 2017 - Present (another example exhibited)
      North Adams, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, The Half-Life of Love, 6 May 2017 - 25 March 2018 (another example exhibited)
      Geneva, Musée d’art moderne et contemporain, Cady Noland, Laurie Parsons, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 31 May - 10 September 2017 (another example exhibited)
      Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, Give and Take: Highlighting Recent Acquisitions, 4 March - 3 September 2018 (another example exhibited)
      Milan, Massimo De Carlo, MCMXXXIV, 8 March - 13 May 2019 (another example exhibited)
      Montpellier Contemporain, Intimate Distance, 29 June - 29 September 2019 (another example exhibited)
      Hong Kong, David Zwirner, Singing the Body Electric, 11 July - 10 August 2019 (another example exhibited)
      New York, Off Paradise, Doubles, 27 February - 27 July 2020 (another example exhibited)
      Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Oh, Honey...A Queer Reading of the Collection, 21 August 2021 - 20 February 2022 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Roni Horn, exh. cat., Sammlung Goetz, Munich, 1995, p. 20
      Encyclopaedia Universalis, ed., Universalia 1997. La politique, les connaissances, la culture en 1996, Paris, 1997, p. 478
      Dietmar Elger, ed., Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Text, Ostfildern, 1997, pp. 40, 56, 57
      Dietmar Elger, ed., Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Catalogue Raisonné, Ostfildern, 1997, no. 118, p. 69 (another example illustrated)
      Felix Gonzalez-Torres, exh. cat., Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin, 2006, p. 177 (another example illustrated, p. 164)
      Las Implicaciones de la Imagen, exh. cat., Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Arte, Mexico City, 2008, no. II.25, pp. 234, 193 (another example illustrated, titled as Untitled No. 2)
      Reality Check, exh. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, 2008, p. 90
      Dawn Ades, Tate Latin American Acquisitions Committee: Celebrating 10 Years, New York, 2011, p. 45
      Julie Ault, ed., Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Göttingen, 2016, no. 2, pp. 211, 373 (another example illustrated, pp. 89, 209, 360)

Property from a Respected Private East Coast Collection


''Untitled'' (March 5th) #2

light bulbs, porcelain light sockets and electrical cords
height 287 cm (113 in.)
Executed in 1991, this work is number 17 from an edition of 20 plus 2 artist's proofs and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.

Other examples from this edition are included in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; the Tate, London; and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor.

Full Cataloguing

£450,000 - 650,000 

Sold for £504,000

Contact Specialist

Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4060

Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe
+ 44 20 7318 4099

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 3 March 2022