Totem Recall

December 16th, 2010

“I wrote to the National Portrait Gallery this evening requesting that they remove my work “Felix, June 5, 1994” from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. As an artist who saw first hand the tremendous agony and pain that so many of my generation lived through, and died with, I cannot take the decision of the Smithsonian lightly. To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful.” -AA Bronson on his Facebook page, 12/16/2010

This heroic artist and artworld fixture has made a bold, soul-searching resolution about his landmark work.  The work itself deserves the periodic attention it has received here and abroad.  In New York alone, I’ve spotted it at the 2002 Whitney Biennial, the Terence Koh lecture from 2009, and the current Whitney Museum show Singular Visions.  Interesting that the work is owned by the National Gallery of Canada.  How would that privately-funded institution respond to the Wojnarowicz controversy?

AA Bronson, Felix, June 5, 1994, 1994/99

What he said:

“I made this photograph of Felix a few hours after his death. He is arranged to receive visitors, and his favorite objects are gathered about him: his television remote control, his tape-recorder, and his cigarettes. Felix suffered from extreme wasting, and at the time of his death his eyes could not be closed: there was not enough flesh left on the bone.”

He continues:

“Felix and Jorge and I lived and worked together from 1969 until 1994. This communal life ended when Jorge died of AIDS on February 3, 1994. Felix followed shortly after, on June 5, 1994.

Since Jorge and Felix died I have been struggling to find the limits of my own body as an independent organism, as a being outside of General Idea. Over the last five years I have found myself, much like a stroke victim, learning again the limits of my nervous system, how to function without my extended body (no longer three heads, twelve limbs), how to create possibilities from my reduced physicality.

I have had to place Jorge and Felix and General Idea at a distance. This has been difficult, like escaping from my own skin.

Dear Felix, by the act of exhibiting this image I declare that we are no longer of one mind, one body. I return you to General Idea’s world of mass media, there to function without me.”

The other Felix: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled, 1991, one of 24 billboards

To exhibit Felix was AA Bronson’s progress toward reconciliation and letting go of the kindred spirit he lost.  One can only imagine the haunting pain he feels every time he agrees to exhibit the work, opening and re-opening those wounds, again and again.  By recalling Felix from the Smithsonian, AA isn’t just reclaiming his artwork.  He is reattaching himself to the Dead, a morbid grafting, which must be as horrific as waking up next to his corpse.

Stephen Kaltenbach

Thank you, AA Bronson, for making this gut-wrenching and meaningful gesture.  I will always remember the first time I saw Felix in personl!  Visitors to Hide/Seek should know how fortunate they are to see this phantom limb of yours.
UPDATE: The kid stays in the picture
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