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In the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, there’s an installation by Félix González-Torres called “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) that is composed entirely of hard candy. The viewer is invited to take a piece, yet the pile never seems to shrink. Whose job is it to refill the pile every day, and where do they get that delicious, wrapped candy?—B.M., Northbrook
Bright and sweet on the outside, “Untitled” has an unexpectedly dark center. “This installation is an allegorical portrait of the artist’s partner, Ross Laycock, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991,” Art Institute curator James Rondeau explains via e-mail. As visitors take candy from the pile, originally 175 pounds—Laycock’s body weight when healthy—the diminishment recalls how he wasted away before dying. González-Torres (1957–96) let the artwork’s owner decide whether the installation would disappear over the course of an exhibition or be replenished, Rondeau says, “metaphorically granting perpetual life to Ross.”
Art handlers are responsible for the candy, which the museum purchased from Peerless Confection until the Chicago-based company closed in 2007. The piece’s Assorted Fruit Flashers now come from Hillside Candy in New Jersey. “During very busy periods, our art handlers may replenish the pile twice weekly, with approximately 45 pounds being added to the sculpture,” the curator explains. “On average, we add 15 or 20 pounds weekly.” Sometimes the handlers add candies to rebalance the installation’s colors. “This occurs, for example, when visitors have chosen to take all of the blue and red ones.”