Robert Gober – The Heart is not a Metaphor


On December 15, 2014 & posted in Art, Editor's picks, Editorial Submissions, Exclusive

©Robert Gober, “Untitled Leg”, 1989-90


– Written by Anmari Botha


Often when I think of “modern sculptures” I imagine grand structures too conceptual for my intellect. I was expecting the same for the Gober exhibition. To my surprise, there is a lot of narrative in these sculptures. The dominant focus is on sexuality, religion and politics. “Minimal forms with maximum context.” – John Russel (Times critic.)

At first, I was not too impressed. Walking into the exhibition and seeing nothing but white sinks on the wall made me sigh. Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt I told myself. What is it that makes these sinks art? Five sinks on the wall, all different styles without any plumbing. Everything in this room is white; white is linked to purity and cleanliness. Ironic, as Gober was involved with the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and 90’s. Hence, the useless white sinks represent the impossibility of cleansing ones self.

©Robert Gober, “Untitled Leg”, 1991


Gober’s objectives are projected through the use of domestic items. I come across what I think was a generic candle in a glass box. This candle seems odd, it reminds me of something… a penis. Yes, this is a dick candle made from wax and has real human hair glued at the base. You wouldn’t want to place this on the Thanksgiving table. Just like the sinks, this candle contradicts its perfect and untouched state. This pure, virgin candle is not what it appears to be – another Gober metaphor to ponder over.

Rooms overflowing with sexual innuendo and political frustration, consisting of wedding gowns, male nudity, penis wallpaper, 5ft cigars, newspaper articles and cat litter, with the idea of targeting issues of the everyday American life and reminding us all about the unforgettable truth. As I proceed further, I notice the intricate changes in the sculptures. These sculptures are becoming hybrids of the former, manipulated in order to project a more extensive message.

©Robert Gober, “Untitled”, 1984


One room replicates the interior of a Church. The installations within this room were created after the tragedy of the September 11th attacks and are presented as a space for refuge and reflection. A crucified Jesus hangs at the end of the room, very typical of a Catholic Church. But what makes this pure, yet lifeless Crucifix provoking is the streaming of water protruding from the nipples and into a jackhammered hole in the floor. I also noticed that Jesus is missing his head and there is a Robin perched on his shoulder. Historically, Robin birds are symbolic for the deliverance from evil and God’s holy mercy. It makes one question the relationship between religion and evil in this world.

Overloaded with metaphors and symbolism, I walk out trying to interpret what I’ve just experienced. Robert Gober is an extremely passionate, provoking and controversial artist. He has no shame in expressing his opinion to the world. Gober’s sculptures express messages beyond our understanding – objects familiar yet so secluded and alien.

Robert Gober: The Heart is Not a Metaphor
October 4, 2014 – January 18, 2015

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