Occupy Wall Street, 2011 vs Felix Gonzales-Torres, 1993: A Stark Contrast

by Paddy Johnson on October 18, 2011 · 1 comment Rise Up

Felix Gonzales Torres, "Death by Gun"

Mining AFC’s library has once again proved fruitful. In this week’s selection of quotes by art world types, the book “Between Artists” yields some great thoughts on revolution and the can in a 1993 interview between Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Tim Rollins.

On the practical function of art

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: “It's very beautiful when the work changes by being placed in different contexts… I once went to the employee's toilet in a museum in Germany and found on of my pieces, Death by Gun, pinned to the door of the toilet stall. The employees told me that they loved reading about all those peoples' violent deaths while they were sitting. It helped them 'go.'

Tim Rollins: A laxative.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: That's another function of my work that I hadn't really ever envisioned, you know!”

Source: Between Artists, p. 95

On the Revolution

“I've been waiting for the revolution for a long time and it hasn't come. The ones that have come have done very little to change our ways. Therefore, I don't want a revolution anymore; it's too much energy for too little. So I want to work within the system. I want to work within the contradictions of the system and try to create a better place. I think revolutions were a really nice idea in the nineteenth century and in the early parts of the twentieth century, but we must take into consideration the technological advances that are being made right now. These technological shifts are happening in a world that has become very fragile and also very small.” (emphasis mine)

I wish I better understood what he was getting at here, but it reads as though Gonzales-Torres sees technology as a different kind of revolution, one that precludes the necessity for protesting in the streets. As we’ve witnessed over the last few years, and now with those occupying Zuccotti Park and other locations around the world, there are many who do not share this belief. While Occupy Wall Street may not have a unified message it seems clear that these protestors believe the system Gonzales-Torres talks about is now too corrupt to work within.

  • Ian

    I think this has to do with a political stance he had that was rooted, in my understanding, in identity politics. This is why he thought it was radical and important for him to be showing commercially, not in alternative spaces, and in very prominent venues. For him, the assertion of subaltern subjectivity into the normal hegemonic system was subversive.

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