Newsletter Issue:
Fall 2018

Formalism, Phenomenology, Hermeneutics

by Novel Sholars, Cohort ’16

ARTIST: Felix Gonzalez-Torres

WORK: Untitled (Portrait of Dad), 1991

White candies individually wrapped in cellophane Carlos and Rosa dela Cruz Collection, Miami


Analysis of Form: “Untitled” (Portrait of Dad)

With regard to“form,” (Portrait of Dad) shows as a pyramid shape structure made of cellophane wrapped molded sucrose. The sculptural supports are wall and floor, with closer proximity to floor than ceiling. The edges of the candy as sculptural form, spill over the parameters of its frame, which is the wall, floor, and ceiling as well as the surrounding space.

Light is part of its form, as reflected against the white sucrose and cellophane, superimposed to its frame of space, in juxtaposition of the wall as frame. Michael Freid, in “Shape as Form: Frank Stella’s Paintings”, spoke of a new mode of pictorial structure, based on shape rather than flatness, this substantiates form in a sculptural context. Freid further spoke of literal shape over depicted shape, in this case the shape of the candy, in its circumference is round, however geometrically, the enclosed area of its circumference is a flattened spherical form. The extended form is the clear plastic wrapper, twisted at either end with flared butterfly shaped edges. The aesthetic perfection of the piece is the object as candy, a hardened substance at play with its pliable plastic wrapper, and its geometry in conversation with space and temporality.


Upon confronting the Portrait of Dad, it was not clear to me that it was a work of art. In fact it wasn't my first choice. Candies in cellophane in a large pile against a wall did not at first resonate as art, but more an interesting way of providing a concession for those who visit and partake of it as an offering.

 What is experienced here in Gonzalez-Torres’s work is a multi-sensorial inclusion of sight, touch, sound, and, for some, taste. The weight of each individual piece of candy and the actual feel of the plastic wrapper suggest time and proximity: time in the sense of physical involvement and duration; proximity in the location and interplay with the art as object. The initial attraction to the work is inspired by the play of light against surface, in this case the clear plastic, enhanced by the geometric structure of the work in its entirety; a white, hard candy, pyramid shape as art object, reflected against the frame, or backdrop of a white wall. The shape of each individually wrapped candy is enhanced by the invitation to engage with the work through touch.


As Untitled (Portrait of Dad) is a “newer” form of art that engages the viewer in a participatory fashion, we are challenged to view “art” in unique ways with regard to form.

The fact that the work invites consumption by the viewer releases the intention of the work which is to experience the diminishing of the work, which is a progression to nothingness. Torres’s work deals with the diminishing returns of the AIDS epidemic, as well as mortality in general in this work, which is specific to the death of his father, illustrated by the weight of the candies, 175lbs, and the diminishment of the piece through the consumption of the viewer/participants. This is a powerful metaphor, which takes into consideration aesthetic values, as well as sociopolitical contexts, as it plays with temporality and physical interaction. One can only reflect however, on the intention of the artist, Torres, and his original intention, and the temporality of the moment of connection in relation to individual contexts. This has its pros and cons as one might miss the point of the work, while engaging fully in the aesthetics of form.

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