PRINT September 2000

World Report

Robert Gober in Venice

MANY ARTISTS HAVE VENI'D TO VENICE in recent years, but few have vinci'd (and that includes a few who took home golden lions). So the announcement that Robert Gober has been selected to represent the US at the forty-ninth Venice Biennale, which opens next June, comes as welcome news. The Hirshhorn's Olga Viso (US Pavilion cocurator with James Rondeau of the Art Institute of Chicago) remarks, “Few living artists sustain such deep admiration and respect. The resounding support from the art community confirms that he is the right artist at the right time.”

Indeed, Gober's first all-new site-specific work since his landmark 1997 installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles will likely help the Venice Biennale maintain its position as the numero uno destination on the ever-lengthening international biennial trail. Of course, no exhibition set among that city's fabled stones needs much help, but just as Frank Gehry's Guggenheim provides sufficient reason for a trip to Bilbao, a major new installation by Gober is worth a transatlantic flight in itself.

The precise nature of Gober's plans for Venice is not yet public. Rondeau will say only that the artist “will respond both to the architecture of the United States Pavilion and the context of this highly visible international venue.” But Gober has steered a fixed course since he first received attention in the mid ‘80s for his quirky handcrafted sculptures. Subsequently presented in meticulously designed installations, these disparate and deceptively modest objects—among them distorted utility-style sinks, suitcases with storm-drain bottoms, and wax casts of a man's lower body pocked with sink drains—suggest a dreamlike and consistently personal symbology. Stated crudely, the central theme of Gober's oeuvre might be described as the emotional peril and psychic redemption of a gay man subject to domestic dysfunction and social disenfranchisement. With this in mind, we can rest assured that the artist will not pander to the kind of ambassadorial, multilingual do-goodism that has crippled Pavilion installations of the past. MoCA chief curator Paul Schimmel, who was behind the 1997 show, seems to speak for the consensus when he professes his optimism: “Gober carefully chooses his venues, really studies the exhibition space, and works slowly and diligently. This differentiates him from the typical 'international circuit’ artist who tries to make something for every venue.” We've been looking forward to having something to look forward to. Now we have it.

Libby Lumpkin