Two synchronized clocks hang side by side on a light blue wall, their curved edges kissing. They’re the hardware store kind, often seen in public spaces – plastic, simple, nothing special–yet somehow haunting in their doubled urgency. One clock hand is destined to fall slowly out of sync with the other, milliseconds of discontinuity incrementally adding up to minutes. Only when one of the clocks breaks or stops, as they are bound to do, is their synchronicity reset and the cycle begun again.
Untitled (Perfect Lovers), 1991, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Image courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA). Copyright 2021 The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, Courtesy Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York.
The Cuban-American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres first created the installation Untitled (Perfect Lovers) while his longtime partner, Ross Laycock, was dying of AIDS in 1987. In a 1988 note to Laycock about the piece, Gonzalez-Torres writes, “We conquered fate by meeting at a certain TIME in a certain space. We are a product of the time, therefore we give back credit where it is due: to time.”
Felix Gonzalez- Torres’s letter to Ross Laycock, 1988.
Gonzalez-Torres captures this sanguine melancholy through his situation of the passing of time as a simultaneously degenerative and regenerative process. Synchronicity gives way to disjointedness, while ultimately leading back to harmony with the resetting of the clocks. The ticking of second hands measures a dwindling of synchronized time for Gonzalez-Torres and his partner together while concurrently inching closer to an idyllic rebirth of a new timeline full of metaphorical possibility. In this way, decay creates opportunity for genesis in a tragically hopeful loop that implicates viewers as witnesses to both loss and construction.
"Untitled" (March 5th) #1, 1991.
Image courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Copyright 2021 The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.
Today we are all witness to loss of many kinds: that of our social moralities, our political ethics, our environment. We find ourselves amidst another epidemic–not the AIDS crisis of the 1980s in which Gonzalez-Torres worked, but rather that of COVID-19.
Undeniably, the possibilities for construction are harder to see under our current circumstances. Yet, the beauty of Untitled (Perfect Lovers) lies in its insistence on the inextricability of dialectical inverses. Where there is the absence of synchronicity–love, beauty, positivity–there also exists the implication of its nearing regeneration. Gonzalez-Torres masters the capacity to hold multiple truths in the same moment–heartache and hope, timeliness and timelessness. He gives us permission to be both hurting and optimistic at once. Trump is out of office. Vaccines are in distribution. Systemic racism is in the process of acknowledgement.
Spectators looking at Untitled (Perfect Lovers).
Image courtesy of The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation. Copyright 2021 The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.
Even the title of the piece makes space for both daunting uncertainty–Untitled–and comforting positivity–(Perfect Lovers). Untitled (Perfect Lovers) linguistically implies that the specifically intimate perseveres in spite of a generalized lack, that love and beauty will still remain in the face of uncertain loss, even if as a parenthetical whisper.
Tracing back to the time at which the piece was made in the 1980s, we can see this concept manifest in Gonzalez-Torres’s portrayal of his own queer love during an epoch when major creators like Robert Mapplethorpe were censored for queer eroticism. Gonzalez-Torres fostered and protected space for his gayness through his abstraction of sexuality, making it simultaneously less explicit, and therefore evasive of homophobic censorship, and symbolically larger. Gonzalez-Torres states:
Two clocks side by side are much more threatening to the powers that be than an image of two guys sucking each other’s d*cks because they cannot use me as a rallying point in their battle to erase meaning. It is going to be very difficult for members of Congress to tell their constituents that money is being expended for the promotion of homosexual art when all they have to show are two plugs side by side or two mirrors side by side.
In evoking sensual, heart-beating bodies through the careful placement and naming of two industrial objects during an era when bigotry defined the political and social arenas, Gonzalez-Torres cleverly defended his presentation of love against hate. In so doing, he subversively argued through his artwork that love–beauty, synchronicity–will find its ground even in an environment determined to erase it.
This is all to say that Untitled (Perfect Lovers) reminds us that there is time for the good and there is time for the bad. You cannot have one without the other. They overlap, they entangle. They tick into one another and kiss with their plastic edges. And time will make space for it all.
"Untitled" (Perfect Lovers), 1987-1990. Installation view: Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Specific Objects without Specific Form.
Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Wiels, Brussels, Belgium.
Image courtesy of Wiels Contemporary Art Centre. Copyright 2021 The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation.