Robert Gober (born 1954, Connecticut) is an American sculptor, whose work has informed my spring term practice.
The first word that comes to mind when I think about Gober’s work is ‘eccentricity.’ His sculptures are always unexpected; always as if seen for the first time. His work is striking, yet can be wonderfully simple – it often involves domestic objects, which he presents in a playful and theatrical way.
The pieces connote themes of sexuality, politics, gender, and religion. They also depict a narrative and seem to suggest an alternate universe, in which objects and images of Gober’s interest relate to each other and mean different things.
THE HEART IS NOT A METAPHOR
The Heart Is Not A Metaphor is Gober’s 2015 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, USA. I’m focusing on it in this post because it provides an extensive overview of the artist’s career.
The wildly imaginative exhibition features around 130 of his works across many different mediums, such as sculptures, immersive artistic environments and a plethora of drawings, prints, and photographs. The more or less chronological presentation of the artwork follows the progress of his impressive career, emphasising ideas and motifs which came about in the early 1980s and continue to inspire Gober’s work to this day.
I experienced the exhibition via NOWherelimited’s extremely helpful video on YouTube (all images in this blog post are screenshots from it). Seeing this exhibition made me laugh, it made me wonder, it made me uneasy, and it made me question.
Some sculptures had an air of familiarity, however they were balanced out by some more obscure ones.
There are some bizarre and unexplained juxtapositions involved in some of the pieces. Seen below is a mural involving two small drawings, both repeated across the walls and ceiling of an entire room. Here, the entire room is an art piece, rather than individual sculptures. The drawings depict a man hanging by the neck from a tree and a man sleeping. There is also a racial element – the hanging man is black whereas the sleeping man is white, so perhaps this is a comment on the ever-present white privilege. Resting on the floor up against the mural are two large bags of cat litter. We have to wonder if these have any connection to the mural. Does something that is designed to clean/absorb mess have extra meaning when juxtaposed with something so disturbing as the wallpaper? The third element is the wedding dress – standing by itself as if being worn by an invisible bride. Perhaps this connotes purity, which is interesting when juxtaposed with the wallpaper and the cat litter and their opposing connotations.
Gober’s drawing is very sketchy, not very detailed, and highly expressive – the subject matter is more important than the drawing process here.
He sewed the wedding gown himself and attached it to the frame of a tailor’s dummy to make the wedding dress appear to stand up by itself.
Below are more of Gober’s sculptures featuring legs; a seemingly recurrent theme in his work. These raise questions of identity – is Gober inventing characters here? Can we tell anything about the person to whom the legs belong merely by what we see? They are created in fastidious detail; Gober uses both wax and actual human hair to create them.
HOW HAS GOBER’S WORK INFORMED MY PRACTICE?
Gober’s work is a brilliant example of surrealism and abstraction. Although seemingly random, the pieces all seem to be from a common, alternate universe. I love working with ongoing themes, and I find the idea of creating an alternate universe via art fascinating. This idea informed my series of works with painting plastic items.