Today we are talking candy as the Americans would say. Hard candy, actually. I’m not American so I’m going for sweeties. Art made of sweets. Sweets in art.
I might be breaking new Elevenses ground here by going for an installation crossed with conceptual art. The truth is that when I think of sweets there are two works that immediately come to mind and both are installations. I’m posting about one today and the other will find its way into a post at the start of June.
I remember hearing about this particular work 30 years ago and when spoken about it always came accompanied by a huge eye-roll. ‘What makes it art?’ people cried. ‘I could have done that – look I’ll do a little version of it now’ they said as they emptied a packet of glacier mints into the corner of the room (where, frankly they could stay in my opinion; not my favourite by a long shot).
The installation that I’m talking about is this one, or one like it, by Felix Gonzales Torres, a gay Cuban born American artist who did a series of works (19 in total) in 1990 /1991 using wrapped sweets. He would put a pile of them in a corner of a gallery AND you were allowed to eat them. As many as you wanted. And then you could go back the next day or the next week and eat some more. That is the part of the artwork that, unsurprisingly, I remember the most!!
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Candy Spill or Portrait of Ross in L.A., 1991, Art Institute Chicago
This work relies on people like me wanting to eat the sweets. Gonzalez Torres was quoted as saying that he needed the public to complete the work. The installation depicted here, consisting of a pile of sweets placed in the corner of a gallery, is called ‘Candy Spill’ or more poignantly ‘Portrait of Ross’. They represent his lover who died of an AIDS related illness. The weight of the installation should ideally be 175 pounds or 12.5 stone, Ross’s ideal weight. The shrinking pile of course represented Ross’s own weight loss as he lost his life to the disease. The audience is therefore acting as the AIDS virus as they deplete the pile.
One of the conditions of a gallery displaying the work is that they are obliged to replenish the pile every day. If we stay with the metaphor of the sweets representing Ross’s body, the fact that it was forever replenished grants him everlasting life which in turn raises the notion of transubstantiation. This was absolutely something that was in Gonzales Torres’s mind when he created the work. He said:
‘You put it in your mouth and you suck on someone else’s body, and in this way my work becomes part of so many other people’s bodies. For just a few seconds, I have put something sweet in someone’s mouth, and that is very sexy.’
Add all that to the layer of meaning that comes in when you consider how often we give sweets as gifts, all those boxes of chocolates as declarations of love, and you get a very poignant and rather elegant work.
Felix Gonzales Torres also succumbed to AIDS at just 38 years old in 1996.