Gonzalez-Torres grew up in Cuba and Puerto Rico and then Spain before moving to New York City in 1979 to study at Pratt Institute. He received a B.F.A. in photography in 1983 and then an M.F.A. from the International Center of Photography in 1987. That year, with Julie Ault and Doug Ashford, he formed a New York-based artists’ collaborative, Group Material. In their highly political staged exhibitions, the collaborative examined such issues as consumerism, democracy, and the relationship of artist, art object, and viewer. These concerns continued to engage Gonzalez-Torres in his individual work as well.
Gonzalez-Torres is perhaps best known for producing works of art that encourage the viewer to interact with the art. His stacks of variously printed papers appear to be minimalist sculptures but differ profoundly from those objects because the artist invites the viewer to take a sheet and makes the gallery’s replenishment of the stack a part of the exhibition. Appropriated images and text printed on these takeaway sheets were often subtly political or poignantly romantic. By possessing a sheet of paper (or a piece of candy—another of Gonzalez-Torres’s assembled materials) from an artwork, the viewer collaborates with the artist in demystifying the art object while participating in the universal modern consumer experience.
In all his works—including billboards, stacked prints, text installations, jigsaw puzzle photographs, strings of light, and found objects—Gonzalez-Torres wished to include the viewer as an active agent in producing the work’s meaning. He set private memories and nostalgic journeys into the public sphere, hoping to help viewers transcend the personal to arrive at a collective experience about the social good and the human spirit. Gonzalez-Torres died of AIDS-related illness in 1996. In 2007 he became the second American artist (after Robert Smithson) to be posthumously selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. (Smithson, who died in 1973, was selected in 1982.)"(britannica.com)