NEW YORK CITY | At the very instant I saw a curtain of golden beads in one of the ramps that led to a flight of stairs, I instantly wanted to walk through those strands and turn around so that I could burst in rays of glitter.
At the Guggenheim Museum, I imagined that I was a cabaret performer bursting onto a spiral stage or perhaps a prostitute making a grand entrance into a staid Frank Lloyd Wright building. Playing like an adult child may not be the most appropriate dance to do at one of New York’s premier museums. I thought to myself, “This cannot be a random curtain. This has got to be one of the artworks in the ‘Storylines’ exhibition that lined up the spiral ramp inside the Guggenheim.”
Why not? Before I entered the special exhibit, after all, I saw Pinocchio drowning with his face down inside a pool.
I did not have to think twice about the identity of the mischievous artist who created the strands of beads. When I saw from across the ramp that more golden curtains were placed strategically at various spots along the exhibition, I knew that this lustrous installation came from the playful, minimalist mind of the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres. His artworks always transform everyday objects — stacks of paper, puzzles, pillows, take-away candy, billboards and now strings of beads — into participatory artworks.
Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” Golden (1995) asks of gallery owners and curators to use these beads as room dividers or suspended in doorways through which any viewer must pass. In this case, anyone who wants to take the stairs as they head to the Guggenheim’s tower has no choice but to burst through those golden beads. Instead of people acting like passive spectators looking at a piece of art, these curtains turn viewers into active participants.
The simplicity of using beads reflects a Minimalist sensibility. Because his “Untitled” project motivate viewers to perform simple actions, Gonzalez-Torres’s installation functions a lot like public art. His Conceptual idea of curtains separating rooms makes me think of Bertolt Brecht’s theory of epic theater, which states that breaking the fourth wall of the stage can incite or encourage people to consider more complicated social relationships or political ideas.
Of course, the fake gold colors make me think of an even more important cultural and art-ephemeral experience that transcends the entire museum world. That luminous Art encounter is called Disco!
Later I learned that Gonzalez-Torres conceived “Untitled” (Golden) shortly before his death in Miami in 1996. The beaded curtains look back on the festivities of his homeland Cuba. At the same time that I enjoyed the sense of intimacy and sense of humor of this collective experience, I did think about Death itself. These beads might be a biological membrane of the human body. You can change human membranes. You can break them apart with your hands. Unknown or invasive substances can break these beads apart.
“Untitled” Golden is delightfully glitzy and approachable. Yes, fake-gilded beads are commonplace signs of optimism and openness. They can also offer a serious commentary beneath the child-like exterior.
All of us eventually pass through our own doorways and passages. We shift from public to private moments, from the known world of an exhibition to the unknown realms behind the museum╒s walls ╤ and, in the specific case of Felix Gonzalez╒s immensely generous yet rigorously conceptual art, from Life to Death itself. — Randy Gener
IF YOU GO
Storylines: Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim
June 5–September 9, 2015
Bringing together over one hundred works from the Guggenheim’s contemporary collection, this group exhibition examines how artists today forge new paradigms for storytelling through installation, painting, photography, sculpture, video, and performance.
The Guggenheim Museum is located in New York City on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Want more info? Click on this link.