One of my favorite artworks at the Art Institute of Chicago is Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Silver Beach). The artwork consists solely of a stack of paper. Each 30-inch × 26-2/3-inch sheet is covered with silver ink. Visitors are encouraged to take a sheet of paper and use it however they wish. The stack is continuously replenished by museum staff.
Anyone can take ownership of this artwork. There’s no limit to how many people can own the artwork. (That is, as long as the artwork continues to be on display. When it’s no longer on display, the number of owners does not increase). I haven’t seen this artwork at the Art Institute in years. I would love for it to come back.
In 2011 I did a short art series with this stack. I would take one sheet, and while I was still in the museum, I would fold it into origami. Then I would leave the origami on top of the stack. Therefore, anyone could take the origami creation. Or they could take a sheet from under the origami.
Which would you choose? The collaboration between an artist and Felix Gonzalez-Torres? Some might prefer the original untainted version by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Others might appreciate the extra level of art created by one of his sheets.
I made an origami box and an origami crane.
The first—of what I hoped to be many—of this origami series, is a box. A box? That doesn’t sound very engaging like an origami crane or lotus flower. Ah, but young padawan, pause and appreciate the box and its inherent qualities. The box can hold many things. The box is a vessel. The box becomes whatever you put into it. Just as this sheet of paper became something else, now you can make the box take on another function.
- Coin holder? Sure, that would bring up notions of how this artwork, once free, is now holding objects of value.
- Candy dish? Oh, that would be striking. Especially since this same artist also created the candy pile that is placed in museums. People are welcome to take a piece of candy, thus diminishing the pile over time.
- What you put into the box is what it becomes.
This box was also an indicator of what was to come with this origami series. The void in the box is to be filled with your imagination of what these sheets underneath can do.
“Origami crane atop paper stack” collaboration Félix González-Torres & Matt Maldre
By the way, the artist Felix (now passed) has no knowledge of me doing this. When I say it’s a collaboration, it’s me merely taking on what Felix has offered in this artwork. This crane is the second of the origami series. What better origami to do than the standard origami crane?
Then there is also the notion of me leaving the artwork behind on the stack.
Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ stacked paper has much potential. A stack of paper waiting for your imagination to take hold and shape it into something. This origami series shows some of the possibilities of what this stack holds. As the origami object is photographed on top of the stack, it moves the stack upward into the world of creation. This is how the typical museum functions. The final product is upwardly shown.
His work also serves as a podium for other artists’ work. Just as his work functions in both roles of being art and showcasing art, I believe the museum can also function in both roles. The museum can not only showcase art, but it can also be a place within where to make art as well.
It would be fun to get together a bunch of origami artists and bring them to the Museum of Contemporary Art (or the Art Institute of Chicago) and have everyone make origami from Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ paper stack.
Questions this series raises
- What if an artist made their artwork solely on the paper of Felix Gonzalez-Torresez?
- What if I took a bunch of the Felix Gonzalez-Torres paper, cut it up, and made it into office paper for work?
- Do you think any art museum has considered taking the Felix Gonzalez-Torres paper and printing an exhibition catalog on it? Or maybe the museum map?
- The viewer who takes a sheet of paper now owns that sheet. What if the viewer over time revisited the artwork many times, each time taking one sheet and saving it at home? Eventually, this person would have their own stack of Felix Gonzalez-Torres paper. Would this person now own their own Felix Gonzalez-Torres artwork?
- What if a person from another art museum visited this artwork, taking a sheet at time, amassing their own stack? Could this art museum say they own a Felix Gonzalez-Torres artwork?
Previous official displays of “Untitled” (Silver Beach) at the Art Institute of Chicago
The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation lists all the exhibitions this artwork has appeared in.
- September 29, 2000 – March 4, 2001: Paare [Couples]: Gilbert & George and Felix Gonzalez-Torres, MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, Cur. Mario Kramer
- 2005: Permanent Collection Installation, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- 2008: Permanent Collection Installation, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- July 20, 2011 – January 8, 2012: Felix Gonzalez-Torres in the Modern Wing, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- March 26 – September 19, 2021: Felix Gonzalez-Torres: The Politics of Relation, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Barcelona, Spain, Cur. Tanya Barson
This artwork has not been consistently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, appearing only in 2005, 2008, parts of 2011 and 2012. Thus as of 2023, it’s been eleven years since visitors to the Art Institute have been able to partake in this endless supply of paper. I would love to see this artwork brought back.
Art museums that own a Felix Gonzalez-Torres paper stack
One would think that The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation has the complete list of exhibitions. However, a Google search shows that this artwork appears in many other art museums. This artwork just sometimes goes under other names. Some examples include:
|“Untitled” (Veterans Day Sale)||1989||Milwaukee Art Museum||Milwaukee, WI USA|
|“Untitled (Monument)”||1989||Walker Art Center||Minneapolis, MN USA|
|“Untitled (Silver Beach)”||1990||Walker Art Center||Minneapolis, MN USA|
|“Untitled” (Silver Beach)||1990||Art Institute of Chicago||Chicago, IL USA|
|“Untitled” (The End)||1990||Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago||Chicago, IL USA|
|“Untitled”||1990||Museum of Modern Art||New York, NY USA|
|“Untitled”||1990||Monnaie de Paris||Paris, France|
|“Untitled”||1990||Le Centre national des arts plastiques (Cnap)||Paris, France|
|“Untitled”||1991||Guggenheim||New York, NY USA|
|“Untitled” (Implosion)||1991||Whitney Museum of American Art||New York, NY USA|
|“Untitled” (Double Portrait)||1991||Tate||London, UK|
|“Untitled”||1992/1993||San Francisco Museum of Modern Art||San Francisco, CA USA|
Ranking up there with the art museums
Maybe my Google search results are skewed for me to include my own photos.
Looking for images of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ stacked paper (also named “Silver Beach”), I googled: “Felix Gonzalez-Torres” “Silver Beach”.
So much fun to see my image running right alongside the official institute’s image. It’s like they belong together.
What origami creation would you like to see me do next?