Throughout his career, Felix Gonzalez-Torres's involvement in social and political causes as an openly gay man fueled his interest in the overlap of private and public life. From 1987 to 1991, he was part of Group Material, a New York–based art collective whose members worked collaboratively to initiate community education and cultural activism. His aesthetic project was, according to some scholars, related to Bertolt Brecht's theory of epic theater, in which creative expression transforms the spectator from an inert receiver to an active, reflective observer and motivates social action. Employing simple, everyday materials (stacks of paper, puzzles, candy, strings of lights, beads) and a reduced aesthetic vocabulary reminiscent of both Minimalism and Conceptual art to address themes such as love and loss, sickness and rejuvenation, gender and sexuality, Gonzalez-Torres asked viewers to participate in establishing meaning in his works.
Gonzalez-Torres received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989 and 1993. He participated in hundreds of group shows during his lifetime, including the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1991), the Venice Biennale (1993), SITE Santa Fe (1995), and the Sydney Biennial (1996). In 2007, Gonzalez-Torres was selected to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale in the exhibition Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America. He died in Miami on January 9, 1996.