Description: Robert Gober (b. 1954) Untitled wax, cotton, leather, aluminum and human hair 6¾ x 18½ x 3¾ in. (17.1 x 47 x 9.6 cm.) Executed in 1992. This work is number one from an edition of four.
Artist or Maker: Robert Gober (b. 1954)
Exhibited: San Francisco, Daniel Weinberg Gallery,
, March-April 1995 (another example exhibited).
St. Louis, Forum for Contemporary Art,
Altered States: American Art in the 90s,
March-May 1995 (another example exhibited).
Museo de Arte de Sao Paolo,
Das Américas II
, November-December 1995 (another example exhibited).
New York, Gagosian Gallery,
The Human Body in Contemporary Sculpture
, February-March 1996 (another example exhibited).
Toronto, Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation,
, June 1998-June 2000 (another example exhibited).
Geneva, Musée d'art et d'histoire,
Corps à vif: Art et anatomie
, June-September 1998 (another example exhibited).
Melbourne, RMIT Gallery,
The Heimlich unHeimlich, Melbourne International Festival of the Arts, October-November 2002, p. 5 (another example illustrated).
Aukland Art Gallery,
Mixed Up Childhood
, February-May 2005 (another example exhibited), pp. 66 and 139 (another example illustrated).
Notes: Robert Gober's sculptures are meticulously crafted renditions of social detritus. Composed of the rinds of contemporary life, the mundane objects that silently fill the everyday-yesterday's newspaper decorating the gutter, the bag of kitty litter forgotten under your sink, the lonely shoe littering the side walk-Gober strips away, or strips down, the prosaic aegis of the public sphere exposing the inequities of contemporary society. As a self identified homosexual man born into a middle-class Catholic family Gober's very existence was at odds with the standards that defined American culture. His life experiences highlight the oppressive stereotypes that fueled contemporary society. Working at a time when many artists turned to the uniform commodities of industrial fabrication to expose the fears and realities of social differences, Gober, unlike his contemporaries, approached his artistic expression under the tradition of craftsmanship and it wasn't long before he took the body-the actual site of trauma, infection, pain, and disease-as his subject. Working from a cache of poignant images and motifs Gober's objects suggest a metaphorical relationship between the body and consumption.
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Probably the most poignant of all Gober's recurring motifs is the human leg. Always severed, or perhaps amputated from the body, the paraffin legs are (dis)placed and (re)located as appendages from the wall. By removing the leg from its natural context of the body in an act of replacement, Gober literally objectifies the body. These body-objects which are rendered useless by act of the artist, defectively take on several layers of various meanings and metaphors, which admittedly escape even the artist himself. Are they evidence of a crime, a relic in homage, a medical study, a sexual totem, or a Freudian phallus? Looking at Gober's work in general, one initially suspects that the subject is a male. Indeed all of Gober's sculptures are infused with an air of masculinity. However, upon closer inspection of the clean white sock delicately covering the ankle and the tiny foot neatly strapped into a humdrum sandal one realizes that this leg is that of a woman. Like a Greco-roman spolia bathed in soft light, there is a degree of tranquility and timelessness to the object before us. The longer we stare at the alienated leg however we begin, despite the danger of assumptions, to make associations. The shoe is one our grandmother would have worn when sweeping the porch of her house or perhaps not unlike the sandal and sock our mother used to dress us in for school. It is all too familiar, too natural and suddenly the scene is no longer calming but unsettling. This is not a celebration of femininity, homage to the human form or a display artistic virtuosity, rather it is a sinister attack on the body, the female body, and a nod to the male gaze. We are confronted by a rape, in the sense of the word, an act of sexual contact that is forced upon a person. Like all of Gober's sculptures sex and sexuality are present. However, there is always the chance that the leg is a prosthetic, a mass produced replacement limb, and part of a cruel joke devised by Gober himself. It is precisely this strange familiarity-what Freud has described as the uncanny-which fuels Gober's sculptures. Existing or expiring somewhere between human and inanimate Gober breaks down the body into things in an act of ex-change, commodifying the notion disembodiment.