IT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE DYING
It’s Because You’re Dying, by Patrick Painter, is excerpted from Laura K. Jones, ed., A Hedonist’s Guide to Art, 2010, published by Hg2, a publisher of luxury city guides.
This story is about the late Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who is someone I have been missing quite a bit lately. When I first got to know Felix he told me that, no matter what job he had, he made sure to have health insurance. As it turned out, boy did he ever need it.
When I began to get to know him, my first impression was, “Man, this guy has got some kind of bullshit going on.” It wasn’t until about the third time that we spoke that I realized, “This dude is real.” He is the only guy I have known in my entire adult life that could make you feel like a boy in the schoolyard with no problems, no wars, no taxes -- just nice goofy conversation.
When we worked together on an edition, he sent me his drawn instructions by fax. The instructions said the piece was to have two 16-inch rings touch at a single point. The touching rings were intended to act as a metaphor for two people in a relationship.
I said to him, “So you want me to make two silver rings?”
“And he said, “Yeah, it’s the only permanent sculpture I’ve ever made. They can stop making the paper from my stacks, the light bulbs from my lights, or the batteries for my clocks, but these will always remain.”
I asked, “Can you clean the rings, or do you want them to be untouched?” because I knew they would tarnish over time, and he said, “Sure.”
I then asked, “Can you clean just one ring, and not the other?”
And he replied, “Man, that would be horrible.”
It took some time before they started to sell, but once they did I would make regular calls to give him reports on sales. At the time, it was getting towards the end of his life, and I would sometimes have to talk to him over his answering machine for ten minutes before he could pick up the phone. But when he did answer, you would hear his sickly yet brave voice on the other end.
I would ask him, “Should I be calling you about this business shit? I feel bad about making these calls.”
He would assure me, “Man, are you kidding me? It’s the only thing keeping me going.”
One time he asked me, “Why are these things starting to sell?”
I responded, “Do you really want to know, bro?”
And he said, “Yeah, I really do.”
I told him, “It’s because people say you’re dying.”
I heard him start to laugh in that schoolyard boy way that I came to love so much. It was this jovial spirit that would get me to call him whenever I felt overly businessed out, and felt like I needed to get real again. Once his laughter died down a bit, he said, “Well, in that case, maybe we should make some Happy Face Urns.”
PATRICK PAINTER is an art dealer who runs Patrick Painter Inc. and Patrick Painter Editions in Los Angeles. The gallery was opened in 1997 with the backing and support of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy.