Félix González-Torres, Untitled (Bed), 1991
I love my bed. Most mornings while on my stupidly long commute, I find myself wishing I was still in it. So while I while away my journey day-dreaming of still being curled up under the duvet, here are some other beds both occupied and empty.
The bed in Félix González-Torres’s photograph is, in a way, simulataneously occupied and empty. The bed looks newly vacated – ready to welcome its occupants back before they have to face the day – but the picture is a memorial to the artist’s partner, Ross Laycock, after his death from AIDS. The crumpled sheet and pillows still bearing the indentations of the heads of those who slept there are both the trace of its occupants and reminder of the bed’s emptiness.The whiteness of the picture gives it a delicate beauty.
A bed is of course a private space. In remembering his partner and highlighting the AIDS pandemic, González-Torres made the private unexpectedly public, showing Untitled (Bed) on 24 billboards across New York City. Using advertising spaces to show art is a far remove from the white walls of a contemporary gallery space and challenges our understanding of the image and its reason for being there.
Martin Newth, Cedar Rest Motel, Cedar City, Utah, from 8 Hours, 2001
The beds in Martin Newth’s 8 Hours series are occupied though the all-night exposure means that the figures are a ghostly presence, visible only in the form of the contrast between the blurriness of the bedding and the detailed sharpness of the surroundings. Each picture, taken in American motels during the artist’s honeymoon in 2001, was made using an 8 hour exposure on a large-format camera.
Martin Newth, Desert View Motel, Mojave, California from 8 Hours, 2001
Like González-Torres’s Untitled (Bed), Newth’s series represents a relationship. Though the people aren’t explicitly visible, this series speaks of presence rather than absence offering hope – and, in a way, forming a portrait of a couple at the start of a marriage – where Gonzalez-Torres records the loss of bereavement and the sad end of a long-term relationship.
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