Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Strange Bird), 1993. Spadina Avenue and College Street. 1 of 6 outdoor billboard locations installed across Toronto, Canada from May 3-30, 2022, in conjunction with the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Summer at MOCA Toronto, from March 10-July 31, 2022. Gift of Thomas H. Bjarnason, 1998. © Estate of Felix Gonzalez-Torres / courtesy the Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Photographer: Laura Findlay
A quiet black-and-white image of a winged form, silhouetted against a moody sky, took flight last week, landing on six billboards across Toronto, from Scarborough to Weston Road. The work, “Untitled” (Strange Bird), by the Cuban-born American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957-1996), shifts commercial sites into spaces of introspection, prompting viewers to consider countless associations as we re-emerge from the pandemic: human connection and sexuality; migration and belonging; love, loss and redemption.
Gonzalez-Torres's work was informed, in part, by his experiences as an openly gay man living and working in the 1980s and '90s, within the geopolitical context of that era and against the backdrop of the HIV/AIDS health crisis. Gonzalez-Torres had personal and professional ties to Toronto, and the artist’s work is again present in this city, on billboards and in his first Canadian solo exhibition on now at MOCA Toronto.
He is celebrated for a multidisciplinary practice distinguished by his use of simple materials and everyday images in repetitive, serial gestures and arrangements. In 1991, Gonzalez-Torres exhibited perhaps his most iconic billboard project – “Untitled”, 1991, presenting on 24 public billboards across Manhattan the same image of an unmade bed, its form marked by the impressions of two bodies.