Critics’ Picks

View of “Robert Gober: Sculpture Drawings Studies,” 2013.

Los Angeles

Robert Gober

Matthew Marks Gallery | 1062 N Orange Grove
1062 N Orange Grove
January 19–April 6

“Follow ev’ry rainbow, till you find your dream!” So goes a line from the refrain of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” a song featured in The Sound of Music and saturated with the—musty but still pervasive—American myths of possibility and self-reliance. Inspirational ardor darkens, and the words take on a bleaker tone when read off a framed lyric sheet in the midst of one of Robert Gober’s current exhibitions, which together span both of Matthew Marks’s LA spaces and extend his ongoing examination of the perversity of everyday objects and the eruptions of the political unconscious in the mundane. Dreams, for Gober, are frequently nightmares, and lines like “A dream that will need all the love you can give/Ev’ry day of your life for as long as you live” here sound like a life sentence.

Though it’s been fifteen years since his last solo show here, Los Angeles seems an ideal setting for Gober’s work: The city’s own mythology depends on the aberrant and sinister lurking beneath monumental banality. But Gober’s is a broadly conceived America. A silk-screened wallpaper at the gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard features a repeating pattern of dislocated, pastel-colored states—California, Florida, New York, Hawaii, and a few others identifiable only with a map—a return to geography class, among other things, which seems fitting since in his work Gober has returned frequently to childhood, the site of trauma and of social and class reproduction. His painstakingly sculpted objects plucked from domestic life—sometimes faithfully reproduced, sometimes slightly or monstrously altered—work to defamiliarize with subtlety or violence. The current shows tend toward the latter. Affixed to the wall of the gallery at North Orange Grove Avenue is a replica of an old-fashioned enameled cast iron sink, rendered by Gober in plaster, epoxy putty, and paint. The top of the sink grows into a small forest of tree trunks—or branches, perhaps—ghostly white and gripping three sickly arms, made of wax and sprouting hair. The arms are handless and contorted, and the flatly rendered trees have the look of a stage set: a Grimm Brothers tableau atop a deadpan basin, there to wash away the real violence of fantasy and the fantastic violence of the real.

This exhibition is also on view at Matthew Marks Gallery, 7818 Santa Monica Boulevard, until April 6, 2013.