TO JAN. 2004

Untitled (For Jeff)

Of the seven deaths recorded in the February 1996 issue of Art in America, three were AIDS-related. One of those came as a surprise to nobody. Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the 38-year-old subject of a major Guggenheim retrospective still traveling at the time of his death, had built a highly regarded career by preparing the public for his absence. Much of the best conceptual art operates on a kind of built-in delay, hitting hardest once you’re no longer around it—a quality the Cuban-born New Yorker exploited in order to draw viewers into his grasp. Full participation in his work often requires physical acceptance of a small token that can serve as a memento. The piece of fruit-flavored candy I plucked from a pile at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia I ate immediately, but the photo-reproduction of a patch of sky I slipped from a stack at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden I still keep rolled up on top of my bookcase. Custodians are eventually required to make the works whole again, for with Gonzalez-Torres, the obverse of consumption is always care. The instructions that accompany 1992’s Untitled (For Jeff) encourage multiple simultaneous displays of the billboard-size banner of an open hand that honors the man who tended to the artist’s dying partner; the Hirshhorn has arranged for the work to be installed at a number of outdoor sites throughout the D.C. area over the coming months. This time, you can’t take the piece with you, but it may find you where you are. The work is on view through early 2004 at various locations around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (see for a full list), and to Jan. 4, 2004, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 7th Street and Independence Avenue SW. Free. (202) 357-2700. (Glenn Dixon)