Friday, October 10, 2014

Robert Gober "The Heart Is Not a Metaphor." The Museum Of Modern Art

I was still feeling elated, my eyes and mind were singed with joy and the little bit of hair that I still have was standing on end. I was floating on air after viewing the Matisee cut outs, (which by the way I went through again moving backwards to the beginning of the show. I’m wondering if the Moma would let me move into the sixth floor gallery for the duration of the show. 
          But I thought hey while I’m here let me check out the Robert Gober retrospective that has been getting lots of good press. I wasn’t all that familiar with his work, hell I didn’t even know that he is gay, but this fact although not necessary in liking loving or hating his work can bring some insight to his oeuvre, if one needs this kind of compass. I was taken with a lot of his stuff, his macabre sense of humor and his nice approach to the surreal along with his tactile approach to making things and his strong compassion. 
            I also thought there were some references to cinema, notably David Lynch and a bit of Hitchcock and yes Kubrick also, but the sure shot ghost in the closet is Uncle Duchamp who hovers over some of the work especially Gober’s voyeuristic piece which consists of two partially opened doors at either side of a gallery that when we peek into them we see a clean bathroom where we can make out the partial body of a woman soaking in a tub, the woman is fake but the water is real, and of course this intriguing and spooky piece made me think of the final great Duchamp piece “Etant donnes  permanently installed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and also of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” with its permanent horrific black and white bathroom that is embedded in many horror and film lover’s memory.
                 There is a lot of water in this show, some of it actually running through faucets that form part of a large installation of a forest scene that wraps around one of the large gallery spaces with barred prison like windows that line the top of the gallery and piles of old newspapers that are actually hand made sculptures piled about here and there.  The noise from the faucets imitates the sound of a far off waterfall or a babbling brook.
           There is also horror and sadness in much of his work, those cut off limbs and body parts, male waxed legs cut off and attached (slammed) to the walls can bring unease and shock. Several of the large installations have walls covered in painted wallpaper (Gober seems to have a big fondness for wallpaper, for the fine Charles Burchfield retrospective that he curated for the Whiney a few years back, he covered one wall with wallpaper that Burchfield designed) that are vast and engulfing.
          My favorite I think is the genitalia room with repeated scribble like white loose drawings of cocks and cunts against a black background that took me a second to realize what they were.  Sex is mixed up with violence and religion and tragedy takes on comedic proportions. Gober is most known for his sinks, without plumbing and constructed from various materials that are attached to the walls of many of the installations and provoked a sense of unease in me, bringing up images of morgues, death chambers and insane asylums.
             These are sinks never to be used for washing with the holes where the drains would be casting nice circular shadows beneath them on to the floor.  Another one of my favorite pieces is a fake suitcase (another possible homage to Duchamp) that has a sewer grating placed in the bottom which opens into a deep hole that when we look inside presents us with a complex and detailed diorama of a scene of a fake corral reed with real water and a partial creepy view of a man with hairy legs holding a baby. At this point some might be tempted to run for the exit.
            Not everything in the show was to my liking; the big dollhouse sitting in the middle of a gallery although lovely in detail did nothing for me. The same goes for the over the top headless crucifix with a bird resting on part of the cross in a symbolic chapel like setting that had water streaming out of it’s nipples. This installation forces on us Gober’s Catholic upbringing one of several images and sculptures with religious themes. I also thought the disconcerting and unsuccessful attempt at a memory piece duplicating an exhibition that he curated of several women artists’ causes a tear in the flow of the exhibition no matter how generous the gesture.
           His small pencil drawings were average and meager looking like the work of art school students, but maybe that was his intention, and why open the exhibit with a poor small painting of his childhood home, memory and autobiography is fine, but bad painting is not appealing especially when its hung in one of the major art museums in the world. Again this may have been his point, this is a bad painting I did when I was young and so what do I care if you don’t like it; I have bigger fish to fry.  


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