A Hairy Piece Of Rancid Cheese

Robert_Gober_4Robert Gober‘ s exhibit at MOMA ended on January 18th, widely noticed by major publications and to overwhelmingly glowing reviews. Read on. Bold highlights throughout are mine.

Robert Gober (American, born 1954). Untitled Leg. 1989–90. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair, 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheiser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober

Robert Gober (American, born 1954). Untitled Leg. 1989–90. Beeswax, cotton, wood, leather, human hair, 11 3/8 x 7 3/4 x 20″ (28.9 x 19.7 x 50.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Dannheiser Foundation. © 2014 Robert Gober

Over three decades Gober, one of the most powerful but puzzling artists to emerge in 1980s New York, has produced sculptures and drawings that are spare, sad, eccentric and deeply moving – but moving in a way that can be maddeningly hard to explain. (The Telegraph. Robert Gober opens at MoMA: sober, haunting and genuinely affecting.)

 Untitled. 1991 Photograph: / K. Ignatiadis, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Untitled. 1991 Photograph: / K. Ignatiadis, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

The brooding realism of Robert Gober […] is as American as apple pie — with the sugar left out. The sharpness of his tenderly handmade sculptures and installations — a repertory of familiar yet startlingly altered playpens, sinks and easy chairs and truncated human limbs and bodies — brings us up short. (The New York Times. ‘Robert Gober: The Heart Is Not a Metaphor,’ at MoMA)

 Robert Gober, Untitled. Photograph: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Robert Gober, Untitled. Photograph: D. James Dee, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

His work is very intimate, intelligent and simple. It also holds a dark humor within. For his sculptures, usually named Untitled, he works with objects such as chairs, cribs, sinks, drains, legs and clothes. To these objects, he cleverly integrates different elements to communicate concepts such as about family holding you up, religion, sexual problems, politics, moving on in life or just rancid cheese. There is one thing that all pieces have in common, an amazing technique. (From the blog-post in alfalfastudio.com.)

 Leg with Anchor, 2008 Photograph: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Leg with Anchor, 2008 Photograph: Bill Orcutt, courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery

Early in his career, he made deceptively simple sculptures of everyday objects–beginning with sinks and moving on to domestic furniture such as playpens, beds and doors. In the 1990s, his practice evolved from single works to theatrical room-sized environments. In all of his work, Gober’s formal intelligence is never separate from a penetrating reading of the socio-political context of his time. His objects and installations are among the most psychologically charged artworks of the late twentieth century, reflecting the artist’s sustained concerns with issues of social justice, freedom and tolerance. (Artbook)

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I readily acknowledge that categories such as  intelligent, moving, sober, haunting, sad, genuinely affecting and even psychologically charged are not entirely closed for interpretation.

What puzzles me, however, is where the venerable art critics of The New York Times, The Telegrapgh etc. observed the socio-political context and sustained concerns with issues of social justice, freedom and tolerance? Perhaps, inconspicuously hiding between chairs, cribs, sinks, drains and legs?

What exactly in Gober’s artwork speaks about religion, politics, moving on in life or family holding you up? Sugar-free American apple pie? Sexual problems — perhaps. A hairy piece of rancid cheese can speak volumes.

Ah, well, clearly, Robert Gober’s brooding realism, amazing technique and the sharpness of his tenderly handmade sculptures and installations are beyond my comprehension. Call me retrograde if you must.

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