'Missing Persons':
A New Exhibit at the Cantor

A new exhibit at Stanford's Cantor Art Center examines
the way we remember those we've lost
Missing Persons LOVE & LOSS: A new exhibit at Stanford's Cantor Art Center examines the way we remember those we've lost.

When Caroline Culp met with her fellow Ph.D. candidates to discuss the topic of their curatorial class assignment, they had to confine their inspiration to the archives at the Cantor Arts Center and the Stanford University Special Collections.

"Missing Persons" is the name of their thought-provoking new exhibit at the Cantor, and visitors can feel its impact almost immediately upon examining several silhouettes from the 19th century on display. These black shadows were once connected to individuals. In this context, however, surrounded by dozens of other thematically similar photographs and paintings, the silhouettes quickly turn into symbols of someone's absence.

The exhibit is divided into three related sections: "Wanted," "Remains," and "Unseen." The "Wanted" portion of the exhibit examines "the flight of runaways and fugitives" as exemplified in Glenn Ligon's lithographs from the series "Runaways." Based on the typographical design of fugitive slave notices, which were regularly posted before the abolition of slavery, Ligon inserts his own contemporary narrative into these painfully racist broadsides: he becomes a missing person, advertising descriptions of himself.

"Remains" pores over the memorials that we create for the missing and the dead. "Three Burials," a print by the photographer Richard Barnes, is a document of three skeletons unearthed from under San Francisco's California Palace of the Legion of Honor after the Loma Prieta earthquake. Barnes's photograph insists that even the nameless dead have a story worth recording.

While there are many examples from the archive in the "Unseen" category that challenge the notion of traditional portraiture, "'Untitled' (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991" by Felix Gonzalez-Torres is particularly resonant. An enormous heap of individually wrapped multicolored candies is piled in a corner of the gallery. There is a label on the wall with these simple instructions: "Please Take One."

Gonzalez-Torres created this memorial for his lover, Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS. One of the specifications of the installation is that the candy must be perpetually replenished to the ideal weight of 175 pounds. Of course, this was Ross's ideal weight. By taking a piece of candy, the public shares in a secular communion with the passing of Laycock. Gonzalez-Torres also died of AIDS. With "Untitled," Felix and Ross are both unseen, but their presence is palpable and suffused with loss. We're all surrounded by ghosts and missing persons: in the end it's how we honor them that matters the most.

Missing Persons
Nov 11-Mar 21, Free
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford

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