Critics’ Picks

View of “Felix Gonzalez-Torres,” 2016.

Shanghai

Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) | 上海外滩美术馆
20 Huqiu Road, Huangpu District | 上海市黄浦区虎丘路20号
September 30 - December 25

The first solo exhibition of Felix Gonzalez-Torres in China, at the Rockbund Museum of Art, includes not only his signature participatory works—such as the candy pieces “Untitled” (Public Opinion) and “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in LA) and poster pieces such as “Untitled” (We Don’t Remember)—but also his photography, collage, advertisement, and tattoo works. The show’s scale and range of works make it seem much like a retrospective. Due to the museum’s architecture, visitors—as they ascend the narrow building’s five floors—find themselves on a sentimental journey through which the artist is revealed, layer by layer. In “Untitled” (Go-Go Dancing Platform), 1991/2016, a performer shows up at a random time every day to dance to music only he himself hears via headphones. Viewers gather and watch in silence, prompted to contemplate public and private spaces, majorities and minorities. Who transgresses limits? Who fears and who is feared? This live work connects the late artist and his era to the here and now.

Various curatorial decisions and the exhibition design make evident the museum’s ardent attempts to cultivate the audience’s experience and its understanding that participation lies at the core of Gonzalez-Torres’s work. The unconditional generosity in his work contrasts with the public’s indefensible response to HIV; the gentle and sweet nature of his oeuvre opposes the abyss of death and terror. In this presentation, then, what does the participatory aspect mean for an audience weaned on an urban Chinese culture that has never processed the spread of HIV/AIDS and that is only beginning to take part in an unfolding discourse around LBGTQ rights. Is it the responsibility of the curators and the museum as a public institution to contextualize the exhibition so that what a visitor takes home from the show is not only the sweet taste of candy?