Installation view of Projects 34: Felix Gonzalez-Torres at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Mali Olatunji

Projects 34: Felix Gonzalez-Torres consists of a single enlarged photographic image—that of the artist’s own empty, double bed—displayed at the Museum and on twenty-four city billboards at various sites throughout New York City.

Central to much of Gonzalez-Torres’s art is his interest in exploring the permeable boundaries that separate private experience from public realities, and the collapse of conventional distinctions between these two realms. The artist’s billboard-scale image of the rumpled bed, clearly imprinted with the trace of human presence, is an image without words, where absence, rather than presence, leaves an overwhelming impression. By omitting caption or text, Gonzalez-Torres leaves the picture’s significance open-ended, responding to the varied nature of his audience.

Pasted on the Museum’s gallery wall, the picture is accompanied by a printed guide to the billboards in situ, which provides Museum visitors with a key to the piece as a whole. This shifts the emphasis from the image’s private content and its personal connotations to its public context. Posted in twenty-four different locations, the black-and-white image of the bed remains the same as the surrounding urban landscape changes.

Anne Umland writes in her essay for the brochure accompanying the exhibition, “Given the vitality of these places, it becomes almost impossible to keep our eyes on the photograph and that is the artist’s intention Yet at the same time as city and image vie for our attention, the urban landscape serves as a colorful foil against which the photograph’s absolute reticence and interiority are starkly revealed.”

Organized by Anne Umland, curatorial assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.

The Projects series is made possible by generous grants from The Bohen Foundation, The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Contemporary Arts Council provided additional support for this exhibition.

Installation views

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